Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin
wants a master plan to
Mars within 25 years. As a professor and senior faculty
adviser at the Buzz Aldrin Space
Institute, Florida Institute of
Technology, he will shoot for a Mars settlement by 2039
Quilliam founder Maajid Nawaz
on Islamists: "Treat them like
racists. The only way you can
challenge bigotry is by being
consistent against it."
is quite good in
2015 August 29
Martin Heidegger once confessed:
"Nietzsche hat mich kaputt gemacht."
said he who thinks greatly must err greatly. Unlike Nietzsche,
Heidegger never abandoned his academic post. He aimed instead to
connect the dots between the history of being from the Ancient
Greeks to the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin and Third Reich
For Heidegger, Greek tragedy pointed to the
inescapability of fate and destiny. History was tragedy and
Heidegger thought he knew what roles he and the German people were
to play in it.
Hegel had enough hubris to think that he stood
at the end of history. Heidegger likewise considered himself the
first true philosopher since Heraclitus. In the black notebooks he
noted that the names Heraclitus, Hegel, and Hölderlin each began
with the letter "H" (so did Heidegger and Hitler).
Freedom to Fail is a lament for a philosophical epoch. True
thinking means never having to say you're sorry. Peter Trawny: "For
Heidegger, evil belongs to thinking. Insofar as it elucidates being,
it elucidates evil. For even evil belongs to the world-narrative."
A mathematical proof is an exhaustive
sequence of logical steps leading from an established starting point
to an undeniable conclusion. But some mathematicians think math is
reaching a limit. Real breakthroughs can be too complicated for
others to check.
Computers can help. When
humans write out proofs, they skip a lot of the boring details.
Computers must account for every logical step, but a program known
as a proof assistant can help verify that each step of a proof is
Vladimir Voevodsky splits math into four quadrants.
Applied math involves high complexity but low abstraction. Pure math
involves low complexity but high abstraction. School math involves
neither. Q4 math involves both. Humans may need computers to access
Voevodsky wants to help the computers. Math is currently
defined in terms of set theory, but there are many ways to define
math in terms of sets. If two computer proofs use different
definitions for the same thing, they will be incompatible. Voevodsky
swaps sets for types, a way of defining mathematical objects in
which every concept has exactly one definition. Proofs built with
types can also form types themselves. So mathematicians can
formulate their ideas directly with a proof assistant.
An Intuitive Introduction to Motivic Homotopy Theory
We start with topological spaces. We
invent something about this geometrical world using our visual
intuition. We abstract it and rewrite it in terms of category
theory, which provides a connecting language. And then we apply it
in the new situation of algebraic equations. So what we get is a
fantastic way to translate geometric intuition into results about
algebraic objects. And that is from my point of view the main fun of
AR Hegel and set theory — my twin obsessions 40
2015 August 28
My campaign is for a strategic approach in
which business, the state, and the population work cooperatively to
create wealth, and for that wealth to reach all sections of society
and all regions and nations of our country.
leader, I will appoint a shadow cabinet of all talents within the
parliamentary Labour party. Our party has been reinvigorated and we
will use the surge in excitement to focus our energies on
Revolutions in all the key industries
of the future have been dependent on strategic public-sector
investment. Stable capital must be provided through a public
investment bank to support our most innovative sectors.
vision is of a country in which people are secure in their work,
secure in their home, and able to better themselves, in which people
are supported by strong public services, and with a more balanced
AR Labour talents lack
the wisdom to pick winners among industries of the future. The
public investment bank would waste billions and run up more debt.
2015 August 27
Islamic State rules vast portions of Syria
and Iraq, and enjoys a following among Sunni Arabs in certain
pockets. The ordinary Sunnis in those pockets may dislike the
crucifixions, beheadings, lashings, and amputations, and may recoil
at the mass slaughters. But they have been terrified by the rise of
Shiite power, and they see in Islamic State a force that is willing
to protect them.
Islamic State inherits much from the old
Arab Baath Socialist Party of Saddam Hussein. Baathism is an
extremist movement that is also adaptive. Over the decades the
Baathists have basked in the secular sun and also dipped into the
seas of Islam. Saddam started out with an Islamic orientation,
veered in communist directions during his years of glory, and later
inscribed "Allahu Akbar" on his flag.
The Baathist officers
began by allying with the Sunni Islamist cause in occupied Iraq.
They ended by sailing the seas of jihad, where they remain. Islamic
State acquired an officer corps, administrative skills, and a
security apparatus. The Arab Baath Socialist Party turns out to be
the worst affliction the Arab people has ever endured. Each new
adaptation has proved to be expert at slaughter.
State slaughters for religious reasons. Its piety requires the
efficiently organized jihadis to slaughter the Yazidi minority in
Iraq, to slaughter the Shia, and to slaughter Christians. It would
surely require them to slaughter the Jews, if only the Israeli
Defense Force would let them. Given the opportunity, Islamic State
would slaughter most of the world.
Italian fascism bred Nazis, Iraqi fascism bred IS jihadis.
Dark Quark Matter?
Sabine Hossenfelder and Naomi Lubick
Glenn Starkman says
dark matter could be quark nuggets.
Dark matter accounts for
85% of the mass in the universe, yet is invisible and seems to
interact only weakly with other matter. Edward Witten suggested long
ago that quarks of different flavors could combine to form what he
called quark nuggets, which would be massive, tiny, and well nigh
Constraints on Starkman's hypothesis:
1 If dark matter nuggets were about as
massive as our sun, they would be common enough to cause frequent gravitational lensing, contrary to observation.
2 If they were much smaller and spread
out through space in a thin fog, they would interact with normal
matter and hinder the formation of galaxies as we know them.
The nuggets would have to be light enough not to cause frequent
gravitational lensing and yet heavy enough to be sparse, so as to
interact only rarely with normal matter. Starkman found that nuggets
compatible with observational data would have masses in the range 50
grams to 50 gigatons.
No one knows whether quarks can form
AR Dark matter
seems thus to be solved in principle.
2015 August 26
The Chinese market is not a normal one. The
Chinese authorities decided to stake substantial resources on an
effort to stop the collapse of a bubble. They also decided to
devalue the renminbi. They must have been driven to do so by concern
over the economy, so we should worry too.
A deeper concern is
whether China can shift from an investment-led economy to a
consumption-led one, while sustaining aggregate demand. If it can,
the economy will also sustain growth of 6-7%. Gross fixed investment was 44%
of GDP in 2014, which for an economy growing at only 5% means low or
negative marginal returns. Investment could fall sharply, causing a
collapse in demand.
The Chinese authorities face three
1 Cleaning up the legacy
of past financial excesses while avoiding a financial crisis
2 Reshaping the economy to depend more
on consumption and less on investment
Achieving all that while sustaining dynamic growth of aggregate
AR Interesting times
2015 August 25
China's central bank cut interest rates
and said it would pump liquidity into the banking sector in a bid to
boost the slowing economy and stem the slump in share prices.
David A. Bell
Timothy Snyder suggested in
Bloodlands that Hitler depended on Stalin not only for a model
of terror and murder but also for destroying civil institutions to
cast the Holocaust as part of a larger pattern of mass death.
Black Earth is a meditation on the Holocaust. Hitler saw the
world in social Darwinist terms as a death struggle between races.
The German race would exterminate the Slavs and expropriate their
rich farmlands. Standing in the way were the Jews. Snyder claims
that Hitler only decided on genocide in reaction to his failure to
make the USSR collapse like a house of cards. But this is
Snyder argues that Communists bore
responsibility for assisting the Nazis. He identifies the Soviet
Union far more with mass murder and the destruction of states than
with the successful struggle to defeat the Nazis.
China stocks opened sharply lower again. The Shanghai Composite has
now declined 42% from its June 12 peak, erasing all gains year to
1 China's economy is
slowing faster than anticipated.
2 Uncertainty over US Federal
Reserve interest rate.
3 Cheap oil: crude is now trading below
AR Cheap oil — back to climate change.
2015 August 24
World Markets Plunge
CNN Money, 12:26 AM ET
Shanghai Composite closed down
Nikkei closed down 4.6%
Dow plunged 1000 pt, now rallying
JP Morgan strategist
David Stubbs: "What we're seeing is not a reasonable correction.
We're definitely in the world of psychological downturn and real
concern about the future."
Photo: Sally Adams
Vulcan XH558: From the deck of a cruise boat in
Poole Bay I watched her final exit after 55 years of flying. The
last flying example
of a total of 136 Vulcan nuclear bombers in
RAF service from 1956 to 1984 flew back and forth along the beach
pumped up the power to her four Olympus jets and thundered
up and away into the heavens.
When you breathe in the proper
it calms the conscious mind.
The PNS reduces the flood of
that keeps the brain
wired for danger and allows
the mind to be more
This is why meditation is
Professor LeDoux hosted
The Self: From Soul to Brain
2015 August 23
A novelist is someone who takes years
trying to get it right. I care about the novel. People who write
them, people who read them. That is who I consider my clan, my kin.
I like the kind of people who give sustained attention to something,
let themselves have a full experience and then respond to it
I was already trying to do something with this
book in the early 1990s, the idea of a dissident poet from East
Germany. They had the most exhaustively complete system of
totalitarian rule ever seen outside North Korea. Several things came
together. German thoroughness and love of bureaucracy and love of
order, and also the guilt that communist Germany had. They did it
really more thoroughly than Russia did. Russia was sloppy.
believe success is not merely a matter of hard work and
determination. There's a discomfort that comes with privilege. And
there's been a discomfort for me that comes with success and with
the level of attention that my books have gotten. Remaining in that
state of discomfort is a way to try to keep myself honest.
2015 August 22
Islam spread with the early Arab armies. The
black flags under which extremists now fight recall what are
imagined to be the battle banners of the earliest Muslim forces. The
faith emerged at a time when Byzantine Rome and the Persians had
exhausted themselves in centuries of conflict.
a utopian community during his lifetime. That community then
transformed much of the known world. While the earliest Jews
suffered exile and early Christians persecution, Sunni Muslims
enjoyed one of the most successful military and political campaigns
Across much of the world, for two thirds of the
last 1,300 years, the power, the glory and the wealth was, broadly
speaking, Islamic. The story of the caliphate lives within the
context of this overarching narrative.
When Mohammed died, he
left no clear instructions as to the "caliph" who should succeed
him. The split over the first succession became the division between
the Shia and the Sunnis. The title eventually ended up with the
Ottoman sultans, until Kemal Atatürk abolished the caliphate in
In 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took the unilateral
decision to appoint himself as the new caliph. His caliphate would
allow Muslims to heal the damage done by centuries of western
dominance. An apocalyptic tone in his rhetoric is undoubtedly
present, but the historical element is just as powerful.
most Muslims, the new caliph is simply the latest of a long line of
religious revivalist leaders. His claim to the title is dismissed by
all major Islamic religious authorities. But none would dispute his
dream of resurrecting the power and the glory of Muslim rulers from
the Golden Age of Islam.
A new vision of the extent of the
caliphate is emerging, no longer constrained by the boundaries of
earlier Islamic empires. Some speak of flying the black flag of
Islam over the White House.
2015 August 21
tank maker KMW chief executive Frank Haun: "In the eastern EU and
NATO countries, there is very concrete interest in the establishment
or upgrading of specific capabilities. NATO is aware of the
deficiencies in its conventional deterrent capability."
Ukraine has prompted Germany and other NATO countries to review
their land forces. Haun: "Simply put, what would deter a potential
aggressor from risking a conventional war? It's combat tanks and
armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery, and heavily armored
In Germany, Bundesverteidigungsministerin
Ursula von der Leyen is raising the number of Leopard 2 Kampfpanzer
in Bundeswehr service from 225 to 328. The ministry is spending €620
million on a further 131 Boxer GTK and is considering more Puma
Henrik Heidenkamp: "What Ukraine, and basically Russian policy
behavior, has done is to highlight to German policymakers that there
is a need to think more constructively about how to strengthen the
German defense industry."
The Fall of the USSR
Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1990: "The crisis of
the Soviet Union is a historic crisis like the crisis of the Ottoman
Empire, for example. It is a crisis of stagnation, of attrition, of
demoralization, of fragmentation, and of intensified potential for
Wassily Leontief compared the Soviet economy to a
yacht that was unable to catch the wind. It was held back by
government interference and regulation, but he praised its
achievements before and after WW2. When the Kremlin invited him to
analyze it he said structural changes could fix it.
Leontief said Communist leaders seeking to join the global
capitalist world had ruined the system. It was burned to ashes and
had to be rebuilt from scratch. Today Russia is a source of raw
materials for the global economy.
2015 August 20
HMS Iron Duke
Reception and Capability
Dress uniform 1C or equivalent
Germany (pop. 80 million) expects to
receive a record 800,000 asylum seekers this year, more than the
entire EU in 2014. This is the biggest refugee crisis to face Europe
The EU border control agency said the number of
people entering Europe by irregular means rose to nearly 110,000 in
July, the highest monthly total on record and treble the number for
July 2014. The "Dublin rule" requires refugees to claim asylum in
the first EU member state they enter. But some EU border states
allow large numbers of refugees to head north.
minister Thomas de Maizière: "In the long run, there won't be any
Schengen without Dublin. Control-free borders cannot exist in the
long term without a real European asylum policy."
Angela Merkel says the refugee crisis is of far more concern than
the stability of the euro.
Solche Zahlen sind unerträglich. Mit so vielen Einwanderer werden
wir Probleme ohne Ende einführen. Wir brauchen dringend eine neue
Politik — Festung Europa.
2015 August 19
The narrative about what went wrong with
the euro is based on dubious claims:
Claim: The euro damaged
weaker EZ economies by pushing up wages and preventing currency
Fact: The peripheral economies did not price
themselves out of markets. Most held on to their market share and
most of their wage inflation was in domestic sectors.
• Massive capital flows from the
core to the periphery fueled an import boom and wage inflation, but
less so in sectors that trade internationally.
2 Sovereign bailouts
Claim: There was no alternative to offering rescue loans to the
crisis-hit EZ governments. Sovereign defaults would have had
Fact : Sovereign defaults are almost
always followed by faster growth and better creditworthiness.
Research suggests that they encourage investment by bringing
• Market panic across
the periphery may have owed more to inherent risks than to
3 Fiscal union
Claim: A monetary union must put enough fiscal resources in common
to help its members absorb shocks. The logic leads from monetary
union to fiscal union.
Fact: The case for sharing risk applies
regardless of monetary union. The US and German monetary unions
absorb most local shocks in private financial markets: US fiscal
insurance absorbs 15% of local downturns and German 10%.
• Fiscal union would marginally
help EZ countries, but the real prize is more private financial
Claim: Peripheral EZ nations must reform their
economic structures to make their debts sustainable and to catch up
with the core EZ economies.
Fact: IMF research finds only a small
positive effect of structural reforms on productivity and output.
After 5 years of product and labor reforms, output would be 3.7%
higher than without them. In the long term, product market reform
boosts GDP by 8.6%, labor market liberalization by 2.2%.
• The benefit is too small to make
AR The EZ
narrative promotes economic virtue.
2015 August 18
Russia Looks Weak
Vladimir Putin has consolidated Kremlin
power. But both the Russian political model and its economy look
threadbare. The economy contracted 4.6% in Q2 of 2015 year on year.
Now US GDP at PPP is 5 times larger than Russia's. The Russian
population has fallen to 142 million.
The west is right to
sanction the Putin regime for trampling over Ukrainian sovereignty.
It is right to bolster NATO defenses bordering Russia. But it would
be rash to declare a new cold war. The west should leave the Russian
door ajar for a future leader.
The German approach is wise: Keep calm.
2015 August 17
EU Foreign Policy
European countries are small and can only
exert real influence by acting together. To represent the
interests of the European Union as a whole, the Lisbon treaty
established the office of EU council president (now Donald Tusk) as
well as an office of high representative for foreign policy. These
offices were intended to aggregate the interests of the member
states, to direct EU diplomacy, and to conduct foreign policy on
issues where there was consensus.
Recently some EU member
states have taken center stage in foreign policy crises. On Ukraine,
Germany and France have taken it upon themselves to manage Russian
aggression, with only partial success. If foreign policy is about
helping to manage the free world, member states should calculate
whether a given issue is better resolved by them alone or by the EU
as a whole. If they decide upon the latter, they had better get
behind EU policy. If Ukraine goes wrong, Germany will be
blamed. EU member states should lead behind their jointly
Eastern European NATO members will join
forces to increase pressure for permanent bases in their countries.
Leaders from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic,
Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania will meet in November to
lobby for a larger NATO presence on the eastern front. Poland and
the Baltic states say NATO must respond more robustly to the Russian
annexation of Crimea. Berlin says any permanent NATO bases in the
eastern states would contravene a 1997 agreement with Russia. Warsaw
says the agreement is now moot.
Polish workers in London will go on a
one-day strike Thursday to protest against the lack of appreciation
for their huge input into the British economy. Without the efforts of the Polish community London could grind to a halt
2015 August 16
The Man for Mars
Elon Musk parlayed the $165 million he made
from PayPal into the more than $11 billion behind Musk Industries
today. He built the electric car company Tesla Motors, he founded
and runs the aeronautics company SpaceX, and he chairs SolarCity.
Tesla cars are sold with the guarantee of free solar energy from
charging stations powered by SolarCity. The lithium battery
technology for Tesla cars also covers for cloudy days and dark
nights: A home battery called Powerwall stores energy and kicks in
for the solar panels.
Musk proposes a hyperloop
transportation system to carry passengers in pods from San Francisco
to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. He wants to build an Internet service
based on 4,000 small LEO satellites launched with SpaceX rockets.
He founded SpaceX because he believes that a future where
humanity is out exploring the stars is more exciting than one where
we are not. SpaceX is actively developing the technologies to make
this possible, with the ultimate goal of enabling human life on
Musk has all the attributes of a classic narcissist:
the grandiosity, the quest to be famous, the lack of empathy, the
belief that he is smarter than everyone else, and the messianic plan
to save civilization.
Zen and the Art of Dying Well
Zen Hospice Project
its staff to care mindfully. They
pay scrupulous attention to the
senses that keep people awake
and engaged with the last
moments of their lives.
Photo: Mario Testino
Photo: Mario Testino
Renminbi falls again with new
cut: global markets
fear currency devaluations
China devalues renminbi 2%
against US dollar in
IMF to accept renminbi as a
global reserve currency
Southern Owl Nebula
A dolphin swims in front of
Porcellio scaber, woodlice,
have personalities. Ivan Hadrian Tuf
and colleagues captured some
and observed their responses
to being pushed and handled.
"Porcellio scaber is one of the
species of terrestrial
isopods with documented
Photo: John Wright
Women's Health UK
"I would love to have a little fat
on my sides so I can be
curvy. I'd love a big butt. But
I just can't get there."
AR Looks OK to me.
Photo: Allan Ballard
2015 August 15
NATO vs Russia
Nancy A. Youssef
Top US military officers have begun to
call Russia an existential threat. Moscow has roughly 4,000 nuclear
weapons, the world's third largest military budget, and an
increasingly bellicose leader. But they can't agree on the threat
Against Russia, US forces cannot rely on air
dominance, as they can in the Mideast, and they are ill prepared for
a sustained fight. In March, Russia conducted major field exercises,
deploying 80,000 personnel, focused on the Arctic and High North,
Kaliningrad, Crimea, and the Baltic states. In June, NATO conducted
its own exercises called Allied Shield, where 15,000 troops focused
on the Baltic states and Poland.
Analysis suggested NATO
could not maintain a sustained fight against the Russians. Worse,
Russia has learned to blend special forces, local proxies,
weaponized propaganda, cyber espionage, and sneak attacks, and says
it is ready to go nuclear first. NATO is struggling to figure out
how to respond without starting World War III.
States spends roughly $600 billion on defense. Russia spends $60
billion. Russian weapons are far less modern, and Putin had to
abandon his $400 billion plan to upgrade them earlier this year as
the Russian ruble fell. But during the height of the Cold War, there
were roughly 250,000 US troops deployed to Europe. That number
AR Europe could
fall like France in 1940.
Retail seems like magic to me. You walk
into a space filled with well lit, cunningly arranged, tantalizing
objects, you see something you like, you hand over this stuff called
money, and they give you what you want. What could be better?
The first thing I do in any new country is go to a hardware
store. The Japanese have the best department stores. They are fully
immersive lifestyle experiences, and they sell everything. They're
so well put together that you feel like you should dress up just to
I was really excited to go to Harrods in London.
When I got there everything looked like it was designed by the same
guy who did Michael Jackson's wardrobe. I guess I was expecting a
whole other level of luxury. Humanity seems to be split down the
middle on luxury: those who want gilded leopard-shaped teapots, and
those people who want to live in the white box their iPhone came in.
AR I like a white box.
2015 August 14
Rosanell Eaton reaffirmed a fundamental
truth. What makes our country great is not that we are perfect, but
that with time, courage and effort, we can become more perfect.
Nearly three decades after Rosanell testified to her unbroken
faith in this country, that faith was vindicated. The Voting Rights
Act put an end to literacy tests and other forms of discrimination,
helping to close the gap between our promise that all of us are
created equal and our long history of denying some of us the right
I am where I am today only because men and women
like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full
measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place.
2015 August 13
NATO and Poland
Polish president Andrzej Duda criticizes
NATO for treating Poland like a buffer zone. He urges the alliance
to place permanent bases in Poland and adapt its strategy to
Russia's actions in Ukraine and Georgia.
Warsaw will host the
NATO biennial summit next year. Discussions over permanent bases in
eastern Europe might be a central issue. There are still no NATO
combat troops deployed east of Germany.
Duda and his
right-wing Law and Justice party cohabit awkwardly with Poland's
center-right government. The president heads military and foreign
policy and can propose and veto legislation.
minister Ewa Kopacz supports the EU initiative to reduce CO2
emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2030, but Duda and his party
criticize the proposals. Poland has vast coal reserves and the
mining industry employs more than 100,000 people.
AR Burning coal is filthy.
Paul Mason says capitalism is a complex
adaptive system that has reached the limits of its capacity to
adapt. His argument:
technology has reduced the need for work.
Information goods can be replicated endlessly, for free.
3 People are collaborating in ways that
do not make economic sense.
Mason says technology has turned
us all into individualists connected by networks. He wants to use
their power to build a world no longer dominated by neoliberalism,
where only part of the population would work for cash and the rest
would pursue other goals.
His vision is a world where the
government provides the framework to enable individuals to flourish
and state functions are handed over to citizens. People will be free
to write Wikipedia pages. It sounds utopian.
AR A Conservative vision
Jerusalem's Temple Institute hopes to
raise $125,000 in order to implant the frozen embryos of Red Angus
cattle in Israeli cows, in the hope that the herd produces an
unblemished red heifer. Such a holy cow plays a big part in the
ancient Jewish ritual of purification.
At our finest
universities and hospitals, doctors and scientists are exploring
treatments that edge closer to tinkering with the sacred orb of the
self. We should prepare for a future in which a slew of undesirable
behaviors could be eradicated with a light electrical pulse.
Genesis tells us that when Enoch died he became the angel Metatron,
patron of scientific progress. Is his story a cautionary tale
against attempting to short-circuit our freedom to choose good from
evil? The answer may be harder to come by than a holy cow.
AR Homo sap = Holy cow!
2015 August 12
Russia vs NATO
European Leadership Network
The war in Ukraine has
worsened the relationship between Russia and NATO. Russian
brinkmanship has resulted in many close military encounters between
Russian and NATO forces. Russia and by NATO have also increased the
scope and size of their military exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area
since the Ukraine crisis began.
We analyzed two recent
• A Russian
exercise in March 2015 with 80,000 military personnel.
• The NATO Allied Shield exercise
in June 2015 with 15,000 personnel from 22 states.
is training with the other side in mind: Russia is preparing for a
conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible
confrontation with Russia. We need more communication between NATO
and Russia on exercises and agreed reciprocal territorial
limitations on deployment of certain weapons.
UK defense secretary Michael Fallon: "Russia is continuing to
test NATO's resolve, but we have shown we are standing firm. Seven
thousand people have already died in the Ukraine, right on the
doorstep of Europe, as Ukraine fights for its freedom. This is not a
frozen conflict, it's still red hot."
See NATO expansion eastward as a cool reprise of the 1941-42
assault on the Soviet Union: the Ukraine conflict becomes our
Stalingrad, the limit of our powers. The 1943-45 Red Army rollback
was brutal. A new Russian rollback into Europe
could do real damage.
2015 August 11
One Party State
We are now facing a one-party state. In the
Commons, the opposition is cowed and aimless. A future Labour
majority now looks like a pipe dream. Conservatives are pressing
ahead with boundary changes that were blocked in the last parliament
and will increase the their majority by 30 or 40. In the Lords, the
government will appoint a phalanx of new Tory peers.
last election, the Conservatives had more money to spend than all
the other parties combined. Now they want to introduce union
reforms likely to deplete substantially the funding available to the
Labour Party. The BBC is to be eviscerated, legal aid is
disappearing, and the Freedom of Information Act will be reviewed.
Democrats need to wake up and act.
Conservative rule OK: UK democracy needs rethink.
2015 August 10
Pressures on Greek self-determination
micromanagement of policy by creditors
Shameless intervention in Greek elections by EZ leaders
3 Huge efforts made to avoid any upset
of the EZ program
Greek opinion polls show most Greeks want
to keep the euro but reject the policies imposed by creditor
institutions. The EZ political elite has done everything it can to
frustrate this preference.
Either EZ leaders believe there is
no alternative or they cannot admit they were wrong. But EZ
imposition of austerity and monetary tightening was a policy choice.
People can say no.
The EZ goal was to smooth trade
and investment and prevent a return to past enmities. It was not to
remove any choice over economic policy. Denying democracy betrays
AR Lesson to
Greece: EZ money is not easy money.
Digital publishing encourages skim reading.
People react to the volume of academic papers by skimming them. They
read ebooks on devices they use for other things, such as
cellphones, with distraction a thumb swipe away.
shorter now. You can look up a word in an ebook by selecting it. If
you like a passage in an ebook you can highlight it. Then you can
read just the highlighted bits. Wikipedia pages on novels embody
Good beach reads:
Literary novels with clear prose and plots
Popular novels with a high writerly craft
Literary autobiographies, diaries, reportage
Today life is
more immersive. Writers are up against it.
AR Zine-like ebooks — EZ books — are the
2015 August 9
29 US Scientists Praise Iran Nuclear Deal
New York Times
Top US scientists, including Nobel
laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms, and former White House
science advisers, wrote to President Obama on Saturday to praise the
Most of the 29 signatories are physicists, and
many of them have held Q clearances granting access to a special
category of secret information that bears on the design of nuclear
In Greek mythology, the
omphalos marks the navel of the world. But where is it? Kazakhstan,
Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan
were once crossed by the Silk Roads — for
Peter Frankopan the
crossroads of civilization.
Ancient Greece and Rome are
traditionally seen as the birthplace of European civilization. Yet
the Greeks and Romans looked to the East for enlightenment and
mystery. Europe was a barbarian place. Roman grandeur was built on
riches from the East.
From the East came cinnamon, nutmeg,
ginger, silk, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Muslim commentators
noted with regret how the advance of Christianity effaced the traces
and paths of learning. The Christians were the fundamentalists back
The Silk Roads also transmitted a plague to Europe that
triggered a change so profound it remade the West. Europeans claimed
the mantle of the Greeks and Romans. But today the massive wealth is
in the Gulf region. So where is the omphalos?
AR The omphalos is in the great "I am"
— the concept of self that exceeds all understanding.
2015 August 8
A few years ago, the
Four Horsemen of the
New Atheism pressed the case that God does not exist and that many
aspects of organized religion are pernicious.
against the New Atheists has led to a new consensus. People will
never be disabused of their religious beliefs. Perhaps societies need unifying creeds to promote
altruism and social cohesion. Also, science relies on faith in
testing and universal laws. If science and religion just stayed on
their own sides of the bed we could all just get along. This is
Jerry Coyne says science is distinct from
religious faith. He defines science as a system of
belief grounded by reason and evidence rather than faith. People
who appreciate science ought to treat all claims with
skepticism, and provisionally accept only those warranted
by arguments and evidence that anyone can recognize. They should not
accept claims on faith.
The existence of the God of scripture
is a testable empirical hypothesis. Religious beliefs are
falsifiable. Coyne finds arguments for them false or
Are we too intelligent?
"Human beings tend to think being clever is such a good thing, but
it might be that from an evolutionary perspective, being stupid is
Humans have evolved a form of intelligence and
cognitive complexity unseen in other species. This has let us
dominate a planet and develop advanced science. But it has also
taken us to the brink of global problems like climate change and a
mass extinction. A disaster could wipe us out.
Metzinger: "It is cognitive complexity, but without compassion and
flexibility in our motivational structure."
We are moved by
instincts such as greed and jealousy, and not by global empathy or
rationality. Our minds have cognitive biases. We pay
less attention to future risk compared with present risk. We also
have a bias to prefer to be rather than not to be. Why have we met
no intelligent aliens? Metzinger: "They may have come to the
conclusion that it's better to terminate their own existence."
AR I first met Thomas in 1997 and
stayed in touch until 2012 or so. A true philosopher.
2015 August 7
The world is unlikely to go another 70
years without nuclear weapons being used.
The chance of the
United States, Russia, China, Britain, or France deliberately using
such weapons is minuscule. They have robust arsenals capable of
surviving a first strike and intelligence capabilities that give
each of them a good picture of what the others are doing. Diplomacy
and arms control arrangements further buttress stability.
risk comes from countries that have acquired these weapons more
recently. Pakistan is arguably the most serious concern. North Korea
might use nuclear weapons or sell them to others. Israel has a
nuclear arsenal. Iran will keep most of the prerequisites of a large
nuclear weapons program. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates,
Turkey, and Egypt may well follow suit.
use of nuclear weapons may be the challenge of the century.
Israel vs Iran
Israel has been at the receiving end of gun
and missile fire for decades. The ayatollahs in Tehran would have us
believe that they seek a tranquil, stable Mideast, but to understand
the regime we must look at what it is doing.
Iran is the
world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism, arming and supporting
Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Syrian regime, and
Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards perpetrate
acts of terrorism throughout the world, from Asia to Europe to the
United States. The regime also maintains terror cells in Africa and
The regime has been working for decades to
develop a nuclear weapon. Even today, with the Vienna deal signed,
IAEA concerns on the military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear
project remain unanswered. President Rouhani boasted of how in
previous rounds of negotiations he took advantage of talks in Europe
to secretly advance the nuclear military project.
not conform to western values and has not signed up for peace. Iran
is merely using the tools given to it by western democracies. The
terror will continue, and the military nuclear project will be close
on its heels.
2015 August 6
Israel vs Iran
Israel is besieged. I operate on the
presumption that Iran is a fundamental danger, that they are engaged
in negative activities throughout the region, and that they consider
Israel a fundamental enemy. Everything we have done here is to build
a bulwark. Then we can deal with the other things.
We went to
negotiations. People agreed to what was happening. If we
unilaterally walk away from this process and turn our back on their
cooperation, this will be the ultimate screwing. We cut a deal, we
stand up, China, Russia, France, Germany, Britain, all sign off. Now
the United States Congress will prove the ayatollah's suspicion, and
there's no way he's ever coming back.
We did a nuclear deal.
We looked at how do you take the most immediate threat away from
them in order to protect the region. And if we're going to push back
against an Iran that is behaving in these ways, it is better to push
back on an Iran that doesn't have a nuclear weapons than one that
If Congress rejects the deal, we're back to square one.
Suppose they start to dig deeper under a new mountain. They have an
ability to get a bomb. The hue and cry will be: "Iran is going to go
to a bomb, you better drop the thing on them now to stop them." It's
inevitable. Then you have tit-for-tat.
that keeping those six nations together, keeping international law
on your side, keeping that option and giving it the opportunity of
playing out, is a far smarter way to go.
2015 August 5
USS John Warner
SSN-785 USS John Warner comes in on target and under budget, $2
billion worth of steel and stealth, with war-fighting controls
resembling a video game. The new attack sub has no periscope but looks up
through a photonic mast with HD and IR video. The video is streamed
to big screens in the command center, where a joystick controls the
view. Two sailors facing a curved wall of screens drive the boat.
Displacing 7,800 tons and 115 m long, the Warner is armed with Tomahawks and torpedos
and can also launch UUVs carrying
SEALs without breaking surface. Commander Daniel Caldwell: "The
shiniest and coolest thing I've ever seen in my military career."
Senator John Warner is a WW2 sailor and marine and a former
undersecretary and secretary of the Navy: "This ship embraces every
single known bit of high tech that is required to equip it and allow
it to maintain the toughest missions."
AR I recall the bluff and bellicose Sen. Warner fondly from his CNN appearances.
Jonathan Franzen's novel
Purity is about the false idolatry of the digital age, its
pretense of truth-telling and revelation, its ideological purity
that reduces to monomania and fanaticism.
The opening pages
give a bleakly satirical picture of aimlessness in the smudged
afterglow of the Occupy protests of 2011–2012. The protagonist,
named Purity but in a reference to Dickens called Pip, is a recent
college graduate, sexually experienced and conversant in all the
current dogmas, but otherwise as lost and alone as her namesake.
Purity is less fluent than
The Corrections and
Freedom. In places it lacks their propulsive power, in part
because it is structured as a scrambled sequence of novellas, and
includes long digressions and delays. Among other things, it is a
compendium of rabid purities: environmentalism and anti-nuke
activism, high-tech entrepreneurialism, old-style feminism.
Franzen allows his prodigious imagination to flow into the crevices
of his invented world and give it the texture of lived experience.
He convinces us that his vision unmasks the world we live in.
AR I enjoyed
Freedom, must read
UK General and Local Elections 2015
Poole Conservative Association
AR My campaign souvenir
2015 August 4
Biomedical research promises vast increases
in life, health, and flourishing.
The Global Burden of
Disease Project estimated the number of years lost to premature
death or compromised by disability in 2010 at 2.5 billion. The past
two decades have seen a 35% reduction in the per capita,
age-specific, disability adjusted life-years lost to disease
Citizens of richer countries live longer and
healthier lives. Basic public health measures and medical
interventions have largely conquered the disorders that still take a
toll in the developing world. As the treatments get cheaper and poor
countries get richer, the gains will spread.
Given this, the
primary moral goal for bioethics must be: Get out of the way.
2015 August 3
The Decent One
Kurzbiographie durch privaten Filmaufnahmen und Briefe - die Briefe
waren in deutscher Sprache ausgelesen. Mir war es ein Vergnügen,
kultiviertes Deutsch nochmals zu hören. Nur schade, dass der Anlass
dafür so grausam war - immer ein Risiko bei dieser Sprache.
The violence waged by Islamic fundamentalists
worldwide is toxic. These extremists represent a blasphemous form of
Islam that sanctions the killing of anyone who does not agree with
The Islamists aim to establish a caliphate. They want
to convert the whole world to their brand of Islam. Their views have
roots in Wahhabism, the most fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni
Islam, which became dominant in Arabia. Wahhabis divide the world
into two, the land of Islam and the land of war. The latter they aim
to convert and subjugate or destroy. First comes the jihad of the
tongue, then that of the purse, and finally that of the sword, which
We need to counter all three aspects. We must use our military
might. We must encourage prosperity. And we must compete for hearts
and minds. We must defend and promote our values.
2015 August 2
The Sunday Times
Robots are coming to a
parking lot near you. Driverless cars are in development, and legal
problems are now the hardest obstacle. Autonomous technology will
take to the air as well. Robot soldiers are on the march too. None
of these have to be perfect, just better than their human
equivalents. Robot cars and planes will crash, but less often than
human drivers and pilots.
Google visionary Ray Kurzweil says
a confluence of robotics, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering by
around 2050 will create the Singularity. The next transhuman age
will banish sickness and old age and rely on the machines to make us
all rich and happy — a "rapture of the nerds" that Oxford
transhumanist Nick Bostrom calls a bigger threat than global
No one knows if machines can be sentient. We don't
know how human consciousness works. But if the machines ever wake
up, we had better hope they like us. Soon they will control our food
and water, our electricity, and our hospitals and banking networks.
Our best hope is to code human values into them. If they decide to
scrap us, then bye-bye Homo sap.
All this (with a global
gloss invoking Darwin and Dawkins that I spell out in my 2013 book
Coral) recalls my
Germany is the cockpit of Europe. For
centuries, its population of hard workers and good soldiers made
Germany the most valued prize in the European state system. But the
Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was bitterly divided. This
vacuum at the heart of Europe invited war.
the old empire. The German Confederation of 1815 followed, but was
built on similar lines. The result was a political culture
preoccupied with rules and procedure to the point of paralysis.
Bismarck destroyed it to create a united Germany in 1871, which went
on to overturn the European and global balance of power.
Global coalitions crushed German empires in
two world wars. After 1945, Germany was partitioned into a communist
east and a democratic west. The project of European integration was
intended to contain Germany in a peaceful polity like that of the
old Holy Roman Empire, based on the diffusion rather than the
concentration of power.
Defense integration against the
Soviet threat remained the task of NATO. After 1989, the EU and NATO
expansion eastward left Germany surrounded by friends. Now the
European security bubble has exploded with Russian aggression in
Ukraine, the question arises of how far the Germans can think of the
general geopolitical good of Europe.
The strengths and
weaknesses of the old Holy Roman Empire live on in the European
Union of today. Instead of anchoring the common currency in joint
parliamentary representation and a strong state, Berlin is
attempting to run it through the acceptance of German political
The eurozone could continue to stagger from crisis
to crisis. But the euro will fail unless someone is responsible for
its sovereign debt. A German exit from the euro would frustrate the
purpose of the currency. Only complete political union, with
transfer of sovereign powers to the European Parliament, can settle
the German question.
AR Let the
eurozone become German Europe to face down the Russian threat. Let
the UK become a Taiwan to a German China.
Berlin is now the third most visited city
in Europe. Only London and Paris are ahead. With 45,000 newcomers in
2014, Berlin now has more than 3.5 million residents. In 2013 an
estimated 10,000 Brits lived in Berlin, and in late 2014 some
You can live in Berlin without speaking
German. For the same lifestyle, your cost of living in Berlin can be
half the cost in London, assuming you rent in both cities. Consumer
prices in Berlin are 30% less, and rental costs are almost 70%
AR I was fascinated by
Berlin during a 3-month stay to read Hegel there in 1974, and liked
it more and more in several later visits.
2015 August 1
Frank Wilczek peers through layers of
theory to the nature of the universe. His question: Is the physical
universe, and the equations that physicists have derived to explain
can appreciate the beauty of the standard model of particle physics
you need to understand it. The ancient Greeks first glimpsed the
deep numerical order underlying the world. Isaac Newton experimented
with prisms and light, then James Clerk Maxwell wrote a theory of
light as electromagnetic waves. That theory is now part of quantum
The electromagnetic force is one of
four fundamental forces of the universe. These forces act on
particles, which can be organized into related families. The
standard model describes how forces and particles behave in a
mathematical framework of astonishing symmetry. The apparent duality
of forces and particles is resolved in a deeper symmetry called
The links between phenomena and the
symmetries inherent in the equations are profound, and the
scientists who devise and confirm them are creative, but is this
AR I met Wilczek in
Heidelberg and liked his vision of physics.
J. R. R. Tolkien
Oxford don J.R.R. Tolkien lectured on
Middle English, Anglo Saxon, and Old Icelandic. His trilogy The Lord
of the Rings (1954) is arguably the greatest and certainly the most
popular fantasy novels of all time. His Oxford friend C.S. Lewis
encouraged him: "The steady upward slope of grandeur and terror is
almost unequalled in the whole range of narrative art."
Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic but Lewis
began as an atheist. They were both enchanted by mythology. Myths
are stories that convey deep truth, Tolkien told Lewis, who then
converted, and became as fierce an advocate of Christianity as he
had been an enemy.
taught at my college in Oxford, but before my time.
will provide internet access in remote parts of the world. The solar
powered drone weighs about 400 kg and
has a wingspan of 42 m.
Launched with the help of helium balloons, it will fly in the air
for 90 days at a time
in big circles at an altitude of 27 km by day
and 18 km by night. Its first flight will be later this year.
The Nokia Ozo camera lets
and edit 3D
VR content in real time.
Basic neuroscience and
psychology for pre-teens,
a movie with
enough story to carry a
jaded adult like me
a happy end.
Pluto: halo of backlit nitrogen
seen when New Horizons was
about 2 Gm past Pluto. Air
decreases hugely as
Pluto approaches aphelion and
falls as snow.
Sputnik Planum shows swirls
of viscous ice. The glacial flow
on Pluto is nitrogen ice,
which flows glacially much as
water ice does on Earth.
Pluto: new composite
Hanging in the Woods
Hilde Krohn Huse
(HD video, 11:36)
AR She was no scout —
wrong knots in rope
My new image
Clueless — summer hit of 1995.
Alicia! I was like, no way, dude!
I was gone, man. Crashed
AR Hint —
Hero Jon was born in 1979
and grew up in California
spoke like me.
Scout SV has ISTAR
service in 2017.
Program cost: £3.5 billion
2015 July 31
The referendum allows the British people to
choose the future path the UK will take. It is a choice between real
and imagined power. Some say Brussels is strangling Westminster, but
it is more true to say Westminster silences its own MPs. The failure
of MPs to exercise the powers already available to them has reduced
British ability to influence EU affairs. A recent report published
by the Centre for European Reform drew attention to the failings of
the Commons in reducing the effectiveness of MP scrutiny of EU
affairs. The Commons does have powers but MPs fail to use them
Globalization has unleashed huge population
movements. Many European countries have higher levels of migration
than the UK. The EFTA countries have higher levels of immigration
per head of population than the UK. And EU migrants come here to
work, not to claim benefits. They are much less likely to receive
benefits than British nationals. EU migrants in general pay more in
tax than they claim in state assistance. Immigration can be
controlled without leaving the EU and within the framework of free
movement. The UK immigration system is laxer than most others in
2015 July 30
Kepler 452b is rocky, about five times the
mass of the Earth, and comfortably within the orbital region of its parent star
known as the habitable zone, where temperatures should be right for
liquid water to exist.
Some say life on Earth is made
possible by a remarkable concurrence of circumstances that render
our environment stable and hospitable, such as the seasonality of
climate, a large moon to create tides, and the presence nearby of a
giant planet that sweeps up local cosmic debris.
that given the raw chemical ingredients and an energy source to set
them reacting, the appearance of organization is virtually a law of
nature. If life appears in the cosmos, it is highly likely to evolve
by Darwinian natural selection.
There is no reason to think
that life must always evolve to the complexity of humans. But it
seems an absurdly solipsistic idea that we can extrapolate from the
fleeting status and motivations of Homo sapiens today to deduce
anything at all about the fate and goals of intelligent life on
2015 July 29
Edmund S. Phelps
Classical political economy lets wage
rates sink to whatever level the market takes them and offers a
safety net. But many people want to do more with their lives than
consume goods and have leisure. They want to participate in a
community. They want inclusion.
Workers view the economy as
unjust if they or their children have no chance of climbing the
socioeconomic ladder. And moving up appears harder now. For some
decades, productivity slowdown and globalization have prevented
western economies from offering a good life.
The good life
involves using imagination, exercising creativity, taking
fascinating journeys into the unknown, and acting on the world.
Historically, innovation was not limited to elites. The experience
of working in those dynamic economies was good for most people.
An economy must be such that the satisfactions of prospering and
of flourishing through adventurous, creative, and imaginative work
are widespread. An economy without such dynamism is pitiful, much
like the theoretical models of classical economics.
2015 July 28
A thousand AI experts plus Stephen
Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak, have signed a
petition calling for a global ban on killer robots:
select and engage targets without human intervention. Artificial
Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the
deployment of such systems is feasible within years. They have been
described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and
The key question for humanity today is whether
to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If
any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a
global arms race is virtually inevitable. Unlike nuclear weapons,
they become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers
to mass produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear
on the black market. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as
assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations, and
selectively killing a particular ethnic group.
A military AI
arms race should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous
2015 July 27
Cut Wind and Solar Taxes
UK energy secretary Amber Rudd is trying to
rein in regressive stealth taxes on energy bills. Since these have
been ineffective and expensive, this is sensible reform.
was always fanciful to think that wind and solar farms could stop
global warming. Despite vast subsidies, wind produced 1% of global
energy in 2014 and solar 0% (rounded to 1 sig fig). Fossil fuel
produced 87%, unchanged from 10 years earlier. With current
technology, only nuclear power, gas, and a surge in energy
efficiency can slow down the rise in emissions significantly, let
UK CO2 targets were predicated on rising
fossil fuel prices, on rapidly rising temperatures, and on
international agreement. Put money into research instead.
China Stock Rout
China's benchmark index rallied from the
low of early July, after a collapse of more than 30%. But the
sell-off resumed Monday. The Shanghai Composite Index closed down
8.5%. Nearly 1,800 stocks — more than 60% of all stocks listed —
fell by the daily limit of 10% and were suspended.
7.4% in 2014, its slowest pace in 24 years, and grew by 7.0% in Q1
and Q2 of 2015. Government credibility has been undermined by a
stream of overly positive forecasts from senior officials.
Hillary Clinton plans to wage war on
quarterly capitalism. Her case for reforming shareholder capitalism
is strong. The level of US investment is at its lowest since 1947.
With healthy profits and a near zero cost
of capital, now ought to be the time to lay down plans for the
future. But listed companies are almost uniformly opting for
Clinton would introduce a tapered capital
gains tax that would fall with the duration of the investment. Those
who held their stake for at least 6 years would pay a lower capital
gains tax of 20%. Those who sold within 2 years would pay almost
double. It is doubtful such tinkering would be enough.
AR Animal spirits spooked by China!
London is the most open metropolis in Europe.
On a soft summer evening, by the canal or in a park, London in its
civility and continuity can seem like perfection.
is skewed in dangerous ways. House prices keep jumping. Cranes are
everywhere, hoisting new luxury developments into being. Some are
certainly for wealthy Greeks. The capital has become a glittering
enclave in a country often resentful of its dominance.
sucks in money and the affluent from the rest of Europe. London is a
capital of inequality and tax evasion. New elites whose dream is an
American or British lifestyle and education for their children
acquire real estate, drive up prices, and push aside the native
2015 July 26
UK Labour Leadership Contest
The leadership candidates are Jeremy Corbyn,
Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall. Polls put leftist
Corbyn, 66, in the lead. A veteran of the hard left, Corbyn has
campaigned against the Iraq War, nuclear weapons, and austerity. He
learned his socialism in part from Ed Miliband's father Ralph
Miliband, a Marxist academic.
The leadership election will
use the Alternative Vote system. Party members will rank candidates
in order of preference. The candidate with the fewest first votes is
eliminated and their second and lower votes redistributed among the
other candidates. This process continues until one of them wins more
than 50% and is elected leader.
A poll suggests Corbyn would
beat Burnham by 6 points in the final round of voting. The poll puts
Blairite centrist Kendall in last place. She says she will not
withdraw and thinks she can still win.
Labour: Principles and Power
My campaign principles: ending inequality in
the early years, tackling low pay to build a living-wage society,
and devolving decisions to communities and councils. We must be the
voice of community organizers, civic leaders, and workplace
activists in the fight against poverty and injustice.
Application of Labour principles legislated for equality for LGBT
people, stopped the tolerance of failing schools, attacked child
poverty, and reversed the European social chapter opt-out. I
disagree with those who have nothing good to say about the previous
would make a credible sparring partner. Corbyn would make a dirty
great rude noise.
New Labour Needed
Labour needs a fresh set of policies for
2020. People are not looking for a politics of fudge and nudge. They
want a new vision for these new times.
Things need to change.
The party has never really resolved its central purpose. Labour must
become new kind of social movement capable of sustaining and
renewing itself both in opposition and in government. This means
changing its vertical structures into a more horizontal shape fit
for the Google age.
The leader must end command and control
of the grass roots, build strong relationships at local level, build
ties with other progressive movements, ensure that policies are no
longer parachuted from on high, let party members select more local
candidates, and create new structures of accountability.
party needs a modern style of leader.
Labour needs to lie down, in a "horizontal shape" and bottom
up, heeding the grass roots. Let others do the vision thing.
2015 July 25
Laser Nuclear Fusion Rocket Science
Boeing is has patented a
laser fusion drive for future deep space missions.
deuterium-tritium fuel pellet into a bell cavity and blast it with
lasers, triggering nuclear fusion and blasting propellant from the bell. Harvest the heat caught by the bell to
drive the lasers. Presto — a new drive is born!
A system of
free-electron lasers provides pulsed laser beams to vaporize pellets
comprising D-T propellant. Thermal compression of the pellet
triggers fusion, releasing energy beyond the break-even level and
generating thrust. A specific impulse of 100-250 ks is feasible.
Free-electron lasers use synchrotron emission from electrons to
generate photons. They can be tuned to emit within a huge range of
frequencies. Boeing has been working on them since at least 2009.
At the National Ignition Facility, researchers fuse small
pellets of deuterium and tritium using 192 lasers. The fusion can
reach break-even, releasing as much energy as they pump into the
pellets, though not yet enough by far to feed the lasers, but in
principle it works.
Good concept: Project Orion
(Freeman Dyson) meets NIF (blog 2009-03-26) to spawn a real
candidate for a starship drive.
Lawrence of Arabia said insurgents never try to
hold ground or waste lives in battles with regular armies. Chairman
Mao said guerrillas should be fish who swam in the sea of the local
population. US Army studies say holding ground, fighting pitched
battles, and alienating the cultural and religious sensibilities of
the local population are fatal.
Yalda Hakim makes rough brutality the secret of Daesh domination.
Abdel Bari Atwan describes an organization that combines
bureaucratic efficiency and military expertise with a sophisticated
use of information technology. Zaid Al-Ali talks about Daesh
incapacity to govern and the total collapse of water supply,
electricity, and schools, and ultimately population under its rule.
No one knows what draws the 20,000 foreign fighters who have
joined the movement. These new recruits seem to sprout from every
conceivable political or economic system.
The movement now
controls a terrorist state far more extensive and far more developed
than anything that George W. Bush evoked at the height of the Global
War on Terror. Daesh controls Anbar, Mosul, and half of Syria. Its
affiliates control large swaths of Nigeria and areas of Libya.
Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced.
Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar: "This group is
satanic — they should have their limbs amputated or they should be
Much of what Daesh has done contradicts the moral
intuitions and principles of its supporters. The members and leaders
of the movement are not great strategists. Its government is not
delivering economic growth or social justice. The theology,
principles, and ethics of its leaders are neither robust nor
Nothing since the triumph of the Vandals in Roman
North Africa has seemed so sudden, incomprehensible, and difficult
to reverse as the rise of Daesh.
Braveheart warrior cult — restore the caliphate or die
2015 July 24
Kepler 452b is the first
known alien world that circles a sunlike star at a distance that
should allow liquid water to exist on its surface. It was discovered
after a first pass through the full data set from the NASA Kepler
telescope. The analysis also yielded about a dozen other candidate
worlds close to the size of Earth in the habitable zone around their
Kepler 452 is about 1400 light years away in Cygnus and is slightly bigger than our Sun. The planet
Kepler 452b orbits slightly further out than Earth and its year is slightly
longer, but its diameter is 60% larger and humans on its surface
would probably weigh about twice as much as here. Its age is about
6 billion years — old enough to grow its own life.
2015 July 23
Karl Marx once said that philosophers have
interpreted the world but the task was to change it. He did so with
calamitous results. The other nine thinkers on our list interpreted
and changed the world mostly for the better.
Isaiah Berlin witnessed the Russian Revolution as a small boy.
Sigmund Freud, Karl Popper, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Hannah Arendt
all left their middle European origins to seek a safe harbor in the
free world. Most of them found their way eventually to Britain.
Berlin, Popper, and Arendt built on the work of the Victorian
liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill. Popper and Berlin did a lot to
save the world from Marx. Bertrand Russell departed from Mill to
reinvent philosophy as a technical discipline. His former student
Wittgenstein led later philosophers to retreat from history into
Freud took a medical perspective on reason and
emphasized our passions. Albert Camus offered our passions as a
consolation in a world with no meaning. John Rawls reinvented
liberal political theory for our times.
See C20 history as
a titanic clash of ideas from Marx and Mills. British liberalism
but for how long?
How to recover a qubit that has fallen into a
Carroll et al.
Let Alice and Bob each have one of a pair
of quangled particles. Bob sends one bit to Alice. She uses that bit
and her half of the quangled pair to teleport one qubit from where
Bob is to where she is.
A black hole emits quangled particles
in Hawking radiation. Spontaneous production of a particle and its
antiparticle from the vacuum normally ends instantly in a puff of
energy, but near the event horizon one particle falls into the black
hole and the other flies out as Hawking radiation. The two particles
are quangled with each other.
Let Alice be outside the black
hole with access to one of the pair and Bob be inside the black hole
with access to the other. The only way they can retrieve information
from the black hole is for Bob to send classical information to
If Alice measures the spin of the black hole before
and after dropping a qubit with unknown spin into it, the change in
black hole spin is like a bit of classical information transmitted
by Bob to Alice.
Alice can use the change in the black hole
spin, plus her half of the Hawking radiation emitted after she drops
in the qubit, to work out the spin of the qubit she dropped in, and
hence retrieve information from beyond the event horizon.
2015 July 22
New York Times
Islamic State uses terror to force
obedience and frighten enemies. It has seized territory, destroyed
antiquities, slaughtered minorities, forced women into sexual
slavery, and turned children into killers. But its officials are
apparently resistant to bribes.
The Caliphate has
provided relative stability in a region troubled by war and chaos.
It has filled a vacuum left by failing and corrupt governments that
also employed violence. It is putting in place the kinds of measures
associated with governing.
Stephen M. Walt: "I think that
there is no question that the way to look at it is as a
revolutionary state-building organization."
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
On Monday, the British prime minister
condemned Islamist extremism as a doctrine hostile to basic liberal
values. He rejected the grievance justification for extremism and
the violence it spawns.
Islamist extremism is derived from
Islam as a religion. This is why jihadist outfits across the world
can endow their violence with moral righteousness. What the
Caliphate is putting into practice is Islam unreformed and literally
The prime minister has made it clear why unreformed
Islam is incompatible with British values. In proposing a tougher
strategy he is boldly going where no other European leader has dared
Britain faces a referendum on whether to stay in
the EU. Pessimists see no future for Britain within Europe. We need
reforms of the single market, labor mobility, and benefits. But the
challenges of continued EU membership do not outweigh the economic
advantages and opportunities.
our biggest trading partner. We gain hugely from EU trade policies
and regulatory harmonization. Much foreign investment in the UK
depends on our continuing membership. And our voice in global
economic negotiations is stronger if we stay in the EU and fight our
The Greek debt deal is damaging. One
cannot expect the reforms to be enacted by a government that does
not believe in them. Their mixture of structural reforms of state
and economy with neoliberal impositions will discourage the Greek
people and kill any impetus to growth.
The European Council is effectively declaring itself politically
bankrupt. The de facto relegation of a member state to the status of
a protectorate contradicts the democratic principles of the European
Union. The outcome can only be understood as an act of punishment.
During the crisis the European executive has accrued more and
more authority. Key decisions are taken by institutions that lack
any democratic basis. I do not see how a return to nation states run
like big corporations in a global market can counter a drift away
AR The debtors
will take the EZ road to political union. The UK will stand aside.
Good and Evil
David Cameron now sees himself as being
engaged in a battle between good and evil every bit as important as
the fight to defeat Nazism. He wants to step up the air campaign
against the Caliphate. Former chief of the armed forces Lord
Richards of Herstmonceux says we shall sooner or later have to send
in troops and tanks.
In terms of mortal risks to people in the
UK, Islamist terrorism ranks behind diet, smoking, alcohol,
loneliness, the slow collapse of the NHS, child poverty, air
pollution, traffic accidents, and lack of exercise. In the longer
term, climate change, antibiotic resistance, soil loss, and nuclear
proliferation are orders of magnitude more dangerous.
Coinbase co-founder and former Goldman
Sachs currency trader Fred Ehrsam guesses bitcoin can can spam.
Venture capitalists now focus on its blockchain technology to log
bitcoin micropayments for almost any internet activity. Some $400
million of venture capital has funded the development of blockchain
apps. Ehrsam: "I can't sit here and tell you all the killer
applications but I know that the possibilities are near endless."
AR Example: micropay for this blog.
2015 July 21
Russian billionaire Yuri Milner has
launched a $100 million SETI project. Astronomers will look for
signals from the million nearest star systems, the core and plane of
the Milky Way, and the hundred nearest galaxies. Milner: "The search
will be 100 to 1000 times more efficient than ever tried before."
The Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the
Parkes Observatory in New South Wales will scan frequency ranges
between 500 MHz and 15 GHz. Martin Rees: "It's a worthwhile gamble
because the payoff from detecting any artificial signal is so
AR I helped sponsor
Society SETI project BETA back in the last century.
Earth image by Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera EPIC on Deep Space Climate
a million miles away in solar orbit at Lagrange point L1
THE ROLLING STONES
Saatchi Gallery, London
April — September 2016
Sputnik Planum, Pluto
NASA scientist Alan Stern:
"I think the solar system
best for last."
Pluto has a young surface
with big ice mountains
Pluto and Charon
LHC researchers bag
states, over 9 sigma.
Grand Mosque, Mecca,
Night of Power 2015
In Quest of Beauty
and Museum, Bournemouth
2015-04-01 — 2015-09-27
UK royals watch fly-past on
75th anniversary of start of
Battle of Britain
AR Der alte
Fritz lässt grüßen.
Help to Greece no justification
wrong economic philosophy
causing the crisis. "Magnum
AR Zitat Cicero:
Eine große Einnahmequelle ist die Sparsamkeit.
2015 July 20
Struggle of a Generation
David Cameron today made his first major
domestic speech on Islamist extremism. Most British Muslims loathe
ISIS and Al Qaeda, and opposition to liberal democracy among them is
a minority concern. They just want to get on with their own lives,
like everyone else.
But too many blame others for collective
historical failure: Jews, the CIA, western governments, Israel.
Support for liberal democracy is compromised by practices that
discriminate against women, reservations about free speech, and the
dream of an Islamic state.
Conservatives are as divided about
how to respond as the security services and the civil service. Some
stress targeting terrorist acts and the groups that carry them out.
Others say there will always be crocodiles if the swamp is not
drained by targeting extremist ideas.
Cameron has wrenched
policy decisively in the direction of combating extremism.
The Greek prime minister
capitulated. Grexit remains the most likely ultimate outcome —
I am really afraid of the ideological or
political contagion, not financial contagion, of the Greek crisis.
It was always the same game before the biggest tragedies in our
European history, this tactical alliance between radicals from all
sides. Today we can observe the same political phenomenon.
2015 July 19
Economic life is moving to a new rhythm. In
Greece, there are food co-ops, alternative producers, parallel
currencies, local exchange systems, squats, carpools, and free
kindergartens. They trade in the currency of free time, networked
activity, and free stuff.
Austerity means not just spending
cuts, as in the UK, or even the social catastrophe inflicted on
Greece. It means driving the wages, social wages, and living
standards in the west down for decades until they meet those of the
middle class in China and India on the way up.
model of info-capitalism restricts information. It aims to
monopolize and protect data, capture data generated by user
interaction, push into areas of data production that were free
before, mine the data for predictive value, and ensure nobody but
the corporation can use the results. But information wants to be
Information is physical and software is a machine. By
creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but
with the whole of human intelligence a click away, info-capitalism
has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and
connected human being.
Recall the replacement of feudalism by
capitalism. Feudalism was a system structured by obligation. Feudal
laws and customs were shaped around ignoring money. When money and
credit burst through the boundaries to create a market system, it
was a revolution. Capitalism was born.
be structured around human liberation. Information is corroding
capitalism. Most laws concerning information define the right of
corporations to hoard it and the right of states to access it. The
stagnation of late feudalism is now the stalled start of the third
industrial revolution, where instead of automating work out of
existence, we are creating menial jobs on low pay. The new source of
free wealth is the internet.
Energy depletion, climate
change, aging populations, and migration are altering the dynamics
of capitalism and making it unworkable. We need to expand the
technologies, business models, and behaviors that dissolve market
forces, socialize knowledge, eradicate the need for work, and push
the economy toward abundance. We need Project Zero.
AR Eradication of work is the Second
Coming of millenarian socialism. Bad argument.
2015 July 18
The Next Wave
Ray Kurzweil and people like him say we are
on the brink of self-aware machines. I don't see it. Their argument
is all about this exponential acceleration that comes out of the
semiconductor industry. I've discovered it's over. In the last two
years, the price of each transistor has stopped falling.
covered the DARPA robotics challenge. They built Terminator-style
machines that would be able to work in a Fukushima-like environment.
Only three of the machines were able to even complete the tasks.
Most of the robots failed at opening a door. Rod Brooks: "If you're
worried about the Terminator, just keep your door closed."
watched the rapid acceleration in robotics. People say there will be
no more jobs, the automation is going to accelerate, and by 2045
machines will be able to do everything that humans can do. But all
over the advanced world we see a dramatically aging population. The
robots may show up just in time because there may not be enough
Deploying these technologies will take more time
than people think. The development of the technologies to make these
things work is uneven. Deep learning is a modern iteration of
artificial neural nets that lets machines learn how to recognize
objects and how to understand human language. But on cognition we
have no breakthroughs. We are not about to turn these machines loose
in the environment to do all the things that human beings do.
The last major platform in the world that defined the picture of
computing was the smartphone in 2007. I spent a lot of time thinking
about what comes after smartphones. My own bet is that it will be
some flavor of augmented reality.
My bet too.
2015 July 17
Napoleon the Great
AR Reading it now and enjoying it.
2015 July 16
When the Soviet empire fell apart the United
States had an opportunity to become the guarantor of peace in the
world. The Washington Consensus let financial capital move around
freely and was a triumph for market fundamentalism. But unregulated
financial markets are inherently unstable.
The crash of 2008
had a lasting negative effect on all the Western economies. The
Chinese economy replaced the American consumer as the motor of the
global economy. The crash was also responsible for the euro crisis.
The euro had a common central bank but not a common treasury. So the
financial crisis has morphed into a series of political crises. The
European Union became preoccupied with its internal problems and failed to pull
its weight in the international economy.
The inward turn of
the EU and US led to a power vacuum in international governance. The
world may break up into rival camps both financially and
politically. China has begun to build a parallel set of financial
institutions. China could align itself with Russia not only
financially but also politically and militarily. In that case, we
would be on the threshold of a third world war.
government should try to forge a strategic partnership with China.
2015 July 15
The deal is better than Iran unfettered
and ever closer to a nuclear weapon. But its effectiveness depends
on international inspectors accessing military sites and insisting
on full compliance.
Iran might not comply fully. Supreme
leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set red lines weeks ago that
contradicted foreign minister Javad Zarif on key issues. This
reflects divisions in Tehran.
Iran is now the dominant
outside influence in Iraq. It acts as kingmaker in Syria. It
operates in Lebanon via Hezbollah and in Gaza via Hamas. It supports
Houthi rebels in Yemen. Expect years of rivalry with Saudi Arabia
and the United States.
IMF May Block Greek Deal
The IMF may yet walk away from a Greek
bailout. Greek debt may peak at 200% of GDP for 2 years and Greece
needs massive debt relief to return to financial markets.
IMF will only pay out if there is agreement on debt relief. It
cannot participate in a bailout if debt is deemed unsustainable and
there is no hope of a return to private bond markets. The IMF bent
its rules to participate in previous Greek bailouts.
EZ hardliners insisted a Greek bailout requires IMF participation.
No IMF, Grexit.
2015 July 14
New Horizons flies by the Pluto-Charon system: closest approach
New more accurate
estimate of Pluto diameter: 2370 km
New York Times
Creditors have forced regime change in
Greece. They have also destroyed the eurozone as we know it and
demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step toward a
democratic political union.
The eurozone is now a system
run in the interests of Germany. The shadow of Grexit looms for any
member that challenges German economic orthodoxy.
previous barrier to exit was political commitment. Without ambitions
for a political and economic union, the eurozone becomes a
utilitarian project in which member states weigh the benefits and
costs, just as the UK is assessing the pros and cons of EU
AR Germans have earned the right to lead Europe
and the European Union is the modern successor of the Holy Roman
Empire. Ist doch gut so, finde ich.
The German Question
The German Question is back. From 1945, the
United States nursed the German Federal Republic. The European Union
married Germany into Europe.
Germany now dominates Europe to
a degree unimaginable even 15 years ago. Germany has no choice but
to assume its power. It wants to use it well.
Genau. Lass es sein.
2015 July 13
Germany has piled pressure on Greece to
implement bold reforms and accept intense external supervision in
return for a possible €82—€86 billion rescue.
The euro jumped to $1.1175 and Bund prices were weaker, showing
lower demand for safe havens. Angela Merkel said earlier: "There
will be no agreement at any cost."
The mood among finance ministers
was violent. The meeting was
suspended after German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble lashed out
at ECB president Mario Draghi.
2015 July 12
Gallery and Museum
Mayoral Reception and Viewing
Reading my 2011 fictional interview (PDF,
2.34 MB): I still like it.
Human beings are not the master species but
the servant species. Our power should be exercised in looking after
creation. Beings with the capacity to suffer have the capacity to be
wronged. They also possess some degree of cognitive ability and some
sense of self awareness.
We are experiencing a gradual paradigm shift from the idea that
animals are commodities to the idea that, as sentient creatures,
they have dignity, value and rights. The Christian church has made
similar shifts on the rights of women, and gays, and of the child.
2015 July 11
The Anglo-Scottish Act of Union of 1707 was
driven by the threat of an expansionist France. England and Scotland
embarked on a partnership that enabled them to punch above their
weight on the European stage. The 1707 union was the model for the
American patriots after 1776, whose solution of 1787 was seen as an
improved variant of the Anglo-Scottish Union.
In 1946 Winston Churchill argued that only the creation of a
kind of United States of Europe would rescue the continent from
chaos. It would solve the German problem and mobilize democratic
Europe against the threat of Soviet communism. Initially it had the
potential to develop into something akin to the United Kingdom or
the United States.
Now the European Union is a political
project without power or purpose. Its predicament closely resembles
those of the British and the Americans in 1707 and 1787. A United
States of Europe would take from the Anglo-Scottish Union the
successful transcendence of national differences and from the United
States the model for reconciling the needs of the center and the
A single EZ state would begin with consolidation of
debt. Foreign policy and border security would be handled by the EU
and a single army within NATO. A federal EZ state in NATO would save
the euro and reduce the military strain on the USA and the UK. The
Churchillian model demands federation within the EZ state and
confederation between it and the UK. This is in British interests.
We are near the dawn of a post-human future.
It could be as prolonged as the billions of years of Darwinian
selection that preceded humans. Human civilization might be a
transient precursor to a deeper culture dominated by machines.
Few doubt that machines will one day surpass more
of our human capabilities. This is cause for optimism. Human brains
have gone far, but there is no reason to think they can understand
all reality. Far more of our kind of thinking will be done by
silicon or quantum computers than has ever been managed by people.
Artificial minds will not be confined to the biosphere in which
organic life has evolved on Earth. Interplanetary and interstellar
space will be the preferred arena for the grand constructions of
robotic fabricators. Their deep thinkers might one day develop
insights as far beyond us as string theory is for a monkey.
There may be billions of habitable planets in our galaxy. If life is
widespread, other worlds could have had a head start. Aliens may
long ago have transitioned beyond the organic stage. Machines may be
orbiting distant stars.
Neural networks are racing ahead. They can
recognize tumors in medical images, play Super Mario World and the
board game Go, assist in online interactions, recognize faces, read
and understand text, and interpret photos and videos.
Google was the first company to bring a neural
network into our everyday lives. Facebook has troves of NN fodder.
Google and Facebook use the actions of ordinary users to train their
networks for free.
The next NN frontier may be in
human-computer interaction. Neural networks will learn and interpret
our behavior and translate it into computer instructions. The next
smartphones could hold NN chips running adaptive learning systems.
2015 July 10
The cliffhanger over Greece and the euro
threatens to unravel postwar Europe. Without a cohesive Europe,
Germany is lost. Former chancellor Helmut Kohl understood this. The
euro would make a united Germany safe for Europe. Kohl foresaw a
European Germany, not a German Europe.
With Grexit looming,
there is calm in the markets. The big risk is in politics. Voting No
collided with the wish of most Greeks to keep the euro, but as an
act of desperation and defiance it spoke to the frustrations of
citizens across Europe. This is what mainstream political leaders
The EU is not to blame for globalization,
Russian aggression, or Mideast wars. Yet populists have channeled
public anger toward Brussels. European leaders seem almost
embarrassed to say that in a world where power is fast slipping away
from the west, they are better off sticking together.
2015 July 9
A deal with Greece might
risk EZ integration. Grexit would pose no existential threat to the
euro. The risk of contagion from Grexit is low and market
reaction to the Greferendum No was muted. EZ governance
is a balance of rules and trust among democratically elected
participants. The Greek government rejects the EZ rules. A deal
could undermine EZ trust.
Grexit would promote further EZ
deepening. Many EZ governments need to spell out the implications of
EMU to their citizens and make a case for greater fiscal solidarity
and deeper integration. Grexit would spur EZ members to define a mechanism for planned
exit from the euro.
AR Grexit is good.
Grow the economy and get UK finances under control with the national
• Support working people by allowing you to earn
£11,000 before paying income tax.
• Reduce corporation tax to
send out the message that Britain is open for business.
• Set a
new national living wage so that 2.5 million people will get a
direct pay rise.
• Take the home out of inheritance tax by
letting you pass on up to £1 million tax free.
defense with the pledge to spend 2% of national income on defense.
• Put welfare spending on a sustainable footing with a package to
save £12 billion.
• Tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion and
abolish permanent non-dom tax status.
• Improve productivity
with a new fund to pay for sustained investment in our roads.
AR GO is great!
2015 July 8
Living cells are full of tiny
electrochemical machines. We are made of trillions of nanobots.
We are assembled from proteins. The ribosome is a nanobot made
of proteins and nucleic acids that makes proteins. Ribosomes
synthesize proteins by reading messenger RNA that copies genetic
code from DNA molecules and knitting amino acids into protein
strings for cells.
Living cells run on energy from molecules
of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Animals and plants make ATP in
mitochondria. The nanobots in mitochondria are motors with rotors,
stators, and catalytic heads. They use the electrochemical gradient
across a membrane between a high density of protons (hydrogen ions)
and a lower density. The protons pass through the ATP nanobot and
turn its rotor. Each turn forms three molecules of ATP.
Archaea and bacteria used various energy sources. Then some bacteria
began to use sunlight to power photosynthesis. This process yielded
much more energy than other sources, giving its users an
evolutionary edge. Photosynthesis permits brief local reductions of
entropy using a partly quantum mechanical process.
communicate by quorum sensing to modulate activity within their own
populations and within wider ecosystems. Over 1 Gy BP, a larger cell
began to communicate with a smaller one it had ingested. Quorum
sensing let the smaller cell live inside its host and let genes act
to benefit the new chimera. The swallowed cells became mitochondria
and made ATP in the first eukaryotic cell.
swallowed bacteria that could photosynthesize. Quorum sensing
synchronized their nanobots and the new trinity organism became the
photosynthetic ancestor of every plant on Earth.
formed about 4.5 Gy BP. Its first 500 My are known as the Hadean
Eon. A big planetoid hit the Earth, forming the moon and melting the
planet into a ball of molten rock, which cooled quickly and let
oceans form. Earth was almost certainly hostile to life in the
Hadean Eon. The Archean Eon began 4 Gy ago and continued until 2.5
Gy BP. The nanomachines evolved to make the first bacterial
ecosystems in about 3.5 Gy BP.
Life may have begun at hot
mid-ocean ridge vents known as black smokers. These are protected
from UV radiation by the overlying ocean and are rich in the
elements required for DNA. Some of the most ancient life forms on
Earth thrive in hot water. Nanobots that turned nitrogen and
hydrogen to ammonia were in existence by 2.5 Gy BP. When RNA strands
floated in droplets within lipid cell walls, their chemistry
stabilized and they evolved into life as we know it.
next billion years nanobots evolved quietly. Photosynthetic bacteria
excreted oxygen. This reacted with biomass at first, until organic
remains began to fossilize. Then free oxygen accumulated in the
Large animals breathing oxygen first evolved 500 My BP.
Now humans burn fossil fuels.
Genghis Khan created a new world order.
His Mongol army waged war on multiple fronts across vast distances,
making brilliant use of speed and surprise. When he was born in
1162 CE, Eurasia was broken into regional civilizations. When he died in
1227 CE, they were welded with contacts that are still unbroken. He smashed the feudal system of hereditary privilege and built a new
system based on individual merit, loyalty, and achievement. He bowed
only to the law of the eternal blue sky.
AR The body count for the Mongol wars
was up in the tens of millions, in the same league as those of the
A blue tide has swept through
the South West
from Bristol to
Land's End except Exeter is in
our hands: 51 Conservative
MPs hail from the
AR Fox is the Engish
Germany vs Greece
After nearly 425 ks over the
Solar Impulse 2
landed in Hawaii. Leg 8 of a
planned 13 around
the world set
a record for the longest time
and distance for a
only on solar power.
European Union is not
perfect. But recent squabbles
imperfections in a
union of 500 million people in
studying and working together.
It is a work in
2015 June 20-24
London terror police or
2015 July 7
New York Times
Germans prize fiscal rectitude and
adherence to the rules. They have scant sympathy for the Greek
demand for more money. So as de facto head of Europe, Chancellor
Angela Merkel faces a challenge that will test her leadership
Europe faces challenges beyond Greece.
Britain is planning a referendum on membership in the European Union
and threatening to exit. Russia is emerging as a security threat and
exposing rifts within Europe about how to react. And there is no
consensus about how to deal with the migrants washing into southern
Radicals on the left and right in Europe cheered the
Greek No as evidence that the European project was crumbling. Merkel
and others see a threat not only to their own political fortunes but
also to the entire postwar architecture of Europe.
Conservative fury at Greece is mounting. German finance minister
Wolfgang Schäuble wants Greece to exit the euro. But Merkel's
domestic critics were more sympathetic on Monday. Wolfgang Bosbach:
"The chancellor did everything that was humanly possible to help the
David Cameron is one of our greatest
post-war prime ministers. Conservatism now dominates British
politics. Every part of the public sector and welfare state now
feels the lash of reform. He has set a high bar for what he wants to
Like all great leaders, Cameron possesses
fortitude. In the election campaign he stuck to his core message on
the economy. It was brutally simplistic and successful. His strategy
and his judgement were vindicated. His victory was historic.
The one imponderable remains Europe. Once the European question is
put to bed, Cameron will have delivered what he promised. His last
trick will be to ensure an orderly transition to new management for
the next election in 2020.
2015 July 6
CNN, 1640 GMT
Greeks voted NO to the latest EU bailout
offer. They want less austerity and less debt. Greece is out of cash. Another bailout will depend on Germany. Most Greek debt is
held by governments and big institutions. Greece could exit the
AR Throw the bums out.
Germany vs Greece
Greece is in deep trouble. Its taxation and
land registry systems are broken and no one thinks it can ever repay
its debts. Its governments plundered the state.
When the euro
crisis erupted in 2010, German chancellor Angela Merkel made sure
that the IMF was involved in Greece. When former chancellor Helmut
Kohl introduced the euro, he paid too much attention to his emotions
and not enough to economics. The IMF added mathematics.
Merkel respects numbers. She says Europe contains 7% of the
global population and is responsible for 25% of global economic
output, but pays half of all global social welfare, which is
unsustainable. Such claims show why Greeks see her as the German
dominatrix of austerity.
Tweet last week from Greek prime
minister Alexis Tsipras to Merkel: "With a clear 'NO' we send a
message that Greece is not going to surrender."
2015 July 5
Development Corporation designs and manufactures an
Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) to keep
astronauts breathing and hydrated in space. The company wrote a
study for Mars One, the idea to send crews to Mars who would live
and die there for reality TV.
Once a robot ship landed on
Mars, the ECLSS would extract water from rocks. It would turn some
of the water into oxygen and mix it with nitrogen and argon in the
Martian atmosphere to mimic Earth air. For 2 years, it would heat
and cool the air in the still empty living quarters against surface
temperatures ranging annually from 133 K to 294 K (21°C) to prove it
can work reliably.
The colonists would touch down and step
into warm and ready accommodation. They would want drinking water
and bathroom water. They would learn to grow crops that needed
water. The ECLSS would have made enough for them, and would recycle
the used water into drinking and other water.
have not yet tackled inadvertent contamination of Mars by life forms
from Earth. They have also not addressed leaks, repairs, fires,
radiation protection, electric power generation, or how to mine
rocks for water. They need more time. Mars One candidates would land
about 12 years from now. At least all this is useful research that
may one day help land real Martians.
2015 July 4
Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian and
Sapiens is big
In the beginning was the bang. The laws of physics
governed the creation of the stars, which cooked up the stuff that
made Earth and formed life. Blind evolutionary processes led to Homo
sapiens, which may soon evolve into a different species.
histories put humans among other species in the biosphere. Harari
dwells on the multiple extinctions caused by Homo sapiens over the
course of history. Humans are Nietzschean predators impelled by
instinct toward the Übermensch.
Sapiens is a punchy digest of
more nuanced and detailed studies. Harari spins difficult concepts
and complex stories into a synthesis with three revolutions:
1 Cognitive (70 kybp): Evolution of language and symbolic
2 Agricultural (12 kybp): Rising population,
empires, trade, religion, money
3 Scientific (500 ybp):
Capitalism, imperialism, globalization, environmental ruin
Harari presents everything beyond the natural world of science
as myth. While constrained by biology and physics, our species
coexists in imaginary worlds of its own devising. Saps live in a
Homo superior will likely be as restless and
dissatisfied as Homo sap. We are often misled by our own
fictions. History is a useful fiction that can yield enlightenment.
Sapiens means wisdom.
ate my lunch — CORAL
2015 July 3
Israel and America
David P. Goldman
There are two nations and only two
nations in the world that are chosen, because their inhabitants
became citizens by choice rather than happenstance: the United
States of America and the State of Israel. Every other nation in the
world defines itself by common territory and heritage.
forces us to either remember or finally repudiate who we are as
Americans. Both the American Revolution and the founding of the
State of Israel demanded an inspired loyalty to a higher principle.
God choose Israel and Israel chose God. Men become free by
taking responsibility for their own destiny, by choosing between
good and evil. Israel was the first manifestation of freedom in
human affairs. Other peoples defined themselves by the happenstance
of language and geography.
This biblical vision of a free
people assembled by choice that chooses God rather than a human
monarch as its sovereign provides Americans with a chance to
remember sacrifice and boldness of purpose.
AR The dialectical reciprocity of God
and those who chose God was the pearl of my
CORAL. The logic I used
exactly 40 years ago to grow classical mathematics from the null
Big Bang to Big Rip
The universe is expanding and the rate
is accelerating. Dark energy tries to expand the universe and
gravity tends to make it collapse again.
In the Big Freeze
scenario, the universe keeps expanding gradually until only a thin
soup of radiation is left, which cools down into eternity.
the Big Rip scenario, dark energy overwhelms gravity. Our new theory
predicts that the universal expansion will accelerate to infinity.
Phys. Rev. D 91, 043532
2015 July 2
Last week, the Perimeter
Institute in Waterloo, Canada, hosted its inaugural Convergence
conference. Perimeter director Neil Turok: "Theory is becoming ever
more complex and contrived. We throw in more fields, more
dimensions, more symmetry — we're throwing the kitchen sink at the
problem and yet failing to explain the most basic facts."
Convergence gave researchers a chance to parade puzzling
experimental results. The goal is to give young theorists
alternative paths to pursue, guided by empirical evidence.
Areas discussed included dark matter and dark energy, how the human
brain relates to fundamental quantum physics, and whether the
quantum structure of black holes can show that spacetime emerges
from quantum entanglement.
Also discussed were the
implications of the latest Planck measurements for the theory of
inflation. The theory is adaptable enough to fit any observations we
can currently do, so maybe it is too flexible to be called a theory.
But possible observations we could do would falsify it.
Fascinating — in a parallel world I might have been there with a few
2015 July 1
Israel and the Caliphate
Islamic State insurgents have threatened to
take over the Gaza Strip. They accuse Hamas of being too lax on
religious enforcement. Hamas is cracking down on jihadis in Gaza who
oppose its truces with Israel and reconciliation with Fatah.
IS video message to the "tyrants" of Hamas: "We will
uproot the state of the Jews and you and Fatah, and all of the
secularists are nothing and you will be overrun by our creeping
multitudes. The rule of sharia will be implemented in Gaza."
Richard J. Evans
No crime in human history outdoes the
Holocaust, the Nazi extermination of 6 million European Jews. Yet
only about 2.3 million people were put into Nazi concentration camps
between 1933 and 1945. More than 1.7 million lost their lives and
almost 1 million of them were Jews killed in Auschwitz.
During the first half of 1933, makeshift camps
were set up for political prisoners. By 1934, the remaining camps
became dumps for asocials, alcoholics, vagrants, and social
deviants. By 1939 there were six camps. During the war, they were
transformed into centers of forced labor.
Up to the final
phase of the war, Jews made up no more than 1 in 10 of the inmate
population. By September 1939, half the Jewish population of Germany
had gone, leaving mostly the elderly behind. The total number of
Jews in the SS concentration camps amounted to about 1,500 out of
From 1941 onward, Jewish inmates were removed and
taken to extermination centers, where they were killed along with
Jews brought from all over Europe. Toward the end of the war, the
Nazis put increasing numbers of Jews into the labor camp system
rather than the gas chambers. Even then, only a third of the camp
population were Jews.
The genocide of the Jews was part of a
far wider program of mass murder. It is unhelpful to subsume all
these crimes under the concept of the Holocaust.
AR The Nazis were responsible for most
of the more than 40 million premature deaths in WW2 Europe. Like
Islamic State today, they had a brisk way with death that forms a
dialectical counterpoint to the gentle approach to life in the
I used to think communism
was the most
that could be foisted upon an
economy. Now I realize
is an even more destructive
belief system: localism.
AR I hereby confirm that
Primrose Hill is indeed as
brilliant as Alan Sillitoe
said it was.
the Internet of Things
2015-06-23 — 2015-06-25
Drone strikes, manned airstrikes,
special operations raids buy
space and time. But by them-
selves they are only a delaying
action. This counter-terrorism
concept is a fantasy.
M.C. Escher Co.
The Amazing World
of Modern Art, Edinburgh
2015-06-27 — 2015-09-27
European Space Agency director
Johann-Dietrich Wörner wants
to build a village on the Moon:
"This is not so hard to achieve
... I see it as a small human
habitat, with humans and robots
from across the world ... If one
company wants to build a hotel,
if another wants to mine and
explore, that is perfect."
200 years ago today:
Battle of Waterloo
French army NH90
Le Bourget 2015
2015 June 30
No Means Grexit
Greece and its creditors are in the
endgame. The troika (EC, ECB, IMF) has foisted a 25% decline in GDP
on Greece and is still demanding a budget surplus that economists
condemn as punitive. Greeks will hold a snap referendum this weekend.
EU leaders resist the referendum. Concern for popular legitimacy
is incompatible with EZ politics. Yes means depression almost
without end. No opens the possibility that Greece might grasp its
destiny in its own hands. I know how I would vote.
Islamic State is the latest manifestation of
the Islamic fundamentalism that has swept the Mideast for decades.
We will not defeat it until we recognize what it is.
Prime Minister says Islamic State is an existential threat to the
West. So why has the UK utterly failed to come up with a coherent
response to Islamic fundamentalism? We have expended a lot of
military effort overthrowing regimes that were no threat to us and
even regimes that had been keeping the Islamic fundamentalists at
David Cameron seems reluctant to face the facts. It is
time he stopped telling us what a wonderful peaceful religion Islam
is and tackled the problem.
2015 June 29
Back to the Future
Humans are still masters of their fate.
But when machines become smarter than humans, they will take over.
Machines with huge amounts of computing power, working at speeds
inconceivable to the human brain, will create global networks with
each other, communicating without human interference.
Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will be able to take over
entire transport systems, national economies, financial markets,
healthcare systems, and product distribution. Anything you can
imagine the human race doing over the next 100 years AGI will be
able to do faster, including doing wrong.
attempts to limit the powers of AGI could go wrong too. An
instruction to prevent human suffering could logically be
interpreted in AI as one to kill all humans, thus ending
suffering altogether. An instruction to keep humans safe and happy
could be translated in machine logic as one to entomb everyone in
concrete coffins on heroin drips. You get what you ask for,
not what you want.
We need plans for safe AGI before we
create the first dangerous AGI. The software industry is devoting
enormous effort to developing AI, and we are almost at the point of
generating an AGI that is as intelligent as humans. As we race to
the goal of safe AGI we need to outrun the computer industry.
Can a business be alive?
2015 June 28
Teen romance as fairy tale? We have a winner!
An Irish novel for young adults about fairies may seem an
unpromising item for readers outside the charmed circle of Irish
teenage girls. But Helen Falconer gives it enough power to work its
magic on a wider class of readers, and she surely nurses the hope of
emulating in her own modest way the success that J. K. Rowling
achieved with her Harry Potter books. As a novelist accustomed to
high praise for her prose, Ms Falconer is no doubt eager to enjoy a
royalty jackpot commensurate with the exceptional quality of her
The story starts with enough modern realism about
schoolgirl crushes and teen texting to lull its target readers into
a relation of trust. Then, with accelerating tempo, the magic kicks
in and realism goes out the window in an escalating rush of
supernatural fantasy. Once the tale has taken off, the action lets
rip in fine style, with enough dash to propel this reader at least
through a fairly long saga in one extended sitting. That, by the
way, is a big achievement. Most of the few novels that this
impatient philosopher reads at all leave him cold. Those consumed in
one sitting are rare indeed. But modern teens unused to reading big
books will need this narrative drive, and a novel that lacked it
would fail at the gate.
With its artful blend of young love
and folk wisdom,
The Changeling strikes one as eminently fit for purpose.
PDF: 1 page, 57 KB
2015 June 27
Helen worked as a journalist and book reviewer on
the Guardian before becoming a full-time writer. Her novels
Primrose Hill and
Sky High feature teenage protagonists. Her latest novel
The Changeling is published this month.
Helen has been
teaching creative writing classes since 2005. She believes that new
writers are subject to common errors including:
Wandering point of view
Beginning the story in the wrong place
Failing to describe characters until too late
Delivering back story in an indigestible chunk
Losing drama when focusing on getting from A to B
Using general instead of specific words to set scenes and situations
Breaking up action with description
I'm belated reading
Primrose Hill (first published 1999) today. I tutored her
in philosophy at Oxford back in 1977. She was quite brilliant and
went on to get a congratulatory first in PPE.
2015 June 26
Politicians today can barely manage to enact
health and education reforms. Creating new worlds and new human
beings is far beyond their agendas.
The new prophets are
technology gurus. They want to tear down the old world and build a
completely new world in its place. They look toward a future in
which algorithms replace human beings in the economy and life no
longer revolves around work.
The silicon prophets are
building socioeconomic models for a society in which human beings no
longer produce anything and are merely consumers. They are dreaming
not only about remaking society and the economy but also about
defeating death, engineering superhumans, creating the Internet of
Things, and merging them all to form some kind of cosmic
What people hope to achieve is often far more
important than what they can actually do. It is dangerous to mix
godlike technology with megalomaniac politics but it might be even
more dangerous to blend godlike technology with myopic politics.
Technology gives us the power to reshape the future. If
politicians flub the job of planning this future, the really big
decisions might be made by the gurus.
The Internet of Things
IoT technology can create real economic
value. The potential is huge, but capturing it will require an
understanding of where real value can be created and an effort to
address systems issues.
We analyzed more than 150 use cases,
ranging from people with devices to monitor health and wellness to
manufacturers using sensors to optimize the maintenance of equipment
and protect the safety of workers. We estimate that the IoT has a
total potential economic impact of $4 trillion to $11 trillion a
year by 2025. The top end value is over a tenth of world GDP.
Among our findings:
Interoperability between IoT systems is critical
Companies need to use IoT data widely for optimization and
• B2B apps will
probably capture more value than the consumer uses
The IoT will be big both in advanced economies and in developing
• Customers will capture
most of the benefits
A dynamic industry is evolving around
IoT technology. The digitization of machines, vehicles, and other
elements of the physical world is changing how goods are made and
distributed, how products are serviced and refined, and how doctors
and patients manage health and wellness. Capturing the full
potential of the IoT will require innovation and investment.
AR A good way for a big company to get
IoT ready is to run on
2015 June 25
UK in Europe
Sir Mike Rake et al. (27 names)
As business leaders from a variety of sectors,
and from businesses of all sizes, we believe it is overwhelmingly in
Britain's interests to stay in the EU. This country is stronger as
part of the largest market in the world, with half a billion people.
We can trade freely with just one set of rules across the whole of
Europe. We also benefit from Europe's free trade deals with more
than 50 countries around the world.
Britain as a whole is
stronger too: together with our European partners we can best
address common problems that respect no borders, such as crime and
environmental protection; we stand firm with 27 other countries in
the face of common threats; and each UK household benefits by an
average of £3,000 per year.
Of course the EU is far from
perfect and that is why the prime minister is right to call for
change to make it more efficient, streamlined and competitive.
Britain has shown in the past that where we make the case for change
we can win. Reform is an ongoing process that needs to happen now
and long into the future. The best way to secure that is to be in
the room fighting for it, not outside knocking on the door.
2015 June 24
Global Warming or Cooling?
There is about a 1 in 5 chance of the Sun
entering a grand solar minimum in the next 50 years. The last grand
solar minimum occurred between about 1645 and 1715.
has been in a grand solar maximum over the past few decades but it
is quickly becoming less active, with an increasing probability of a
grand solar minimum by the end of the century.
A grand solar
minimum would cause global average temperatures to fall by about 0.1
K. An increase of several K is expected due to global warming if
greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
UK Met Office
researcher Sarah Ineson: "The Sun isn't going to save us from global
Regional climate impacts of a possible
future grand solar minimum
Sarah Ineson et al.
Maurits Cornelis Escher
Roger Penrose was a young man when he first encountered
"Relativity impressed me the most ... My conclusion was we find the
pictures disturbing because we fear Escher may be right.”
Penrose: "For those who do pure mathematics for its own sake, it's
the aesthetic, the joy, the beauty in the subject itself, that
elegance which lies in a proof or a result. Artistry in some form is
so important to mathematics."
John Searle believes that philosophical
work on perception since Descartes has been incoherent. He thinks he
has found the bad argument. He says our perceptual capacities enable
us to see things as they are in our local environments.
is an external world full of things. These things and this world are
objective. There is also a subjective world consisting of internal
states of mind. If you get things wrong, your perceptual system has
produced an inaccurate representation of the external world. Two
perceptual states that differ only in that one of them is accurate
perception of the world and the other is inaccurate are
Searle says all
perceptual states have contents, but not all perceptual states have
objects. Perceptual contents pertain to how the world is
represented, not to what in the world is represented. We can
perceive external objects directly.
Searle has no patience with the brain as VR generator image
2015 June 23
US Global Air Strike Commander Lt Gen
Stephen Wilson: "I don't think we've ever seen so much power put in
one person in Russia, and some of the things happening there are
troubling and concerning for everybody ... Lots of people are trying
to figure out what is the strategic intent of Russia ... We want to
bring Russia back into what we knew from years past, a relationship
which was stable, with good dialog, and understanding and
communication to avoid any potential miscalculation."
2015 June 22
National Space Society
The NASA New Horizons spacecraft
will speed past Pluto on July 14, 2015, beaming back photos and data
from the dwarf planet. (HD video, 2:52)
2015 June 21
The Fifth Gospel
I found this a satisfying novel. It has an intriguing theme and it
is thoroughly researched, as well as skillfully plotted and
populated with deep and credible characters.
The Shroud of
Turin is the iconic motif in a plot that really turns on the schism
between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Debatable claims
for and against the authenticity of the Shroud give way to much more
interesting reflections on the apparent blasphemy of such imagery,
while parochial reflections on eastern versus western faith from the
perspective of Vatican politics turn into a deeper analysis of the
numerous little contradictions between the four canonical gospels.
gospel of the title plays a didactic role in dramatizing what might
otherwise have been a rather tedious exercise in comparative
hermeneutics. The Gospel of John turns out have something to say on
the mystery of the Shroud, but to say more here might spoil the
The priestly characters, including Pope John Paul II in
all his terminal frailty, add real depth to the philosophy and
illustrate better than any moralizing how Christian faith,
for all its intellectual vulnerability, can give shape and meaning
to mortal human lives.
Altogether this is a book for
discerning readers. With a body count of one and no graphic sex it
is not an airport novel.
2015 June 20
Wimpzillas are superheavy weakly interacting massive particles.
Wimps from the early universe could explain dark matter. But the
creation of wimpzillas and other superheavy dark matter takes
energies last found during the inflationary epoch.
from BICEP2 and ESA Planck tell us the free energy in that epoch
could have been in the YeV range. Quantum gravitational fluctuations
could have created wimpzillas. But expansion has diluted them and
they do not interact directly with detectors on Earth.
wimpzillas decay, the decay products will have superhigh energies.
The IceCube neutrino telescope has seen 3 neutrinos with energies in
the PeV range that could be decay products of superheavy dark matter
with an extremely long half-life.
Another way to detect
superheavy dark matter particles would be via the ultra-high-energy
cosmic rays (UHECR) emitted when they decay. UHECR create showers of
particles when they enter the atmosphere, but only a handful do so
The Japanese Experimental Module – Extreme
Universe Space Observatory (JEM-EUSO) will look for light emitted
when UHECR hit the atmosphere. Energies that cannot be explained by
standard astrophysics could come from wimpzillas.
In general relativity, gravity slows down
time. Lab experiments with atomic clocks show that your head ages
slightly faster than your feet, because your feet feel a stronger
Igor Pikovski and colleagues calculated
what happens when you do quantum experiments in Earth gravity. If a
molecule is in a superposition of two states that are at different
heights from the ground, each state will vibrate at a different
rate, destroying any superposition. If you could place an atomic
clock in a vertical superposition, it would tick at two rates
simultaneously, forcing it to decohere. This effect is too small for
present clocks to measure.
General relativity and quantum
mechanics are mathematically inconsistent. Quantum gravity theorists
would like experiments to check their ideas. Pikovski says this idea
Nature Physics, DOI: 10.1038/nphys3366
2015 June 19
1 Each year sees the disappearance of
thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know,
which our children will never see, because they have been lost
2 The warming caused by huge consumption on the part
of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the
world, especially Africa.
3 Christians must forcefully reject
the notion that our being created in God's image and given dominion
over the Earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.
4 Access to safe drinking water is a basic and universal human
5 By itself the market cannot guarantee integral human
development and social inclusion.
6 In the face of a culture
of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life. Concern
for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the
justification of abortion.
7 Valuing one's own body in its
femininity or masculinity is necessary if one is going to be able to
recognize oneself in an encounter with someone who is different.
8 The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or
to replace politics. But there is urgent need of a true world
9 An integral ecology is also made up of
simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence,
exploitation and selfishness.
10 The Earth, our home, is
beginning to look more and more like an immense
pile of filth.
On 18 June 1815, France lost an emperor.
Napoleon the military genius was also a dictator. The image of the
visionary of modern Europe is now tainted.
the beginning of an unprecedented era of peace, stability and
development in Europe. It marked the end of the political cycle of
the French Revolution and the beginning of the industrial revolution
in Britain. It opened the way to a golden age for European science,
arts and literature.
We call on our British allies to resist
the familiar temptation of splendid isolation. Beware, Brexit could
be your Waterloo! Your future is in Europe.
2015 June 18
Europe and Waterloo
Napoleon the Great swept all before him,
overthrew ancient and despotic regimes, put a reactionary Catholic
church in its place, liberated the oppressed, and imposed a modern
legal code on vast swathes of Europe, all at the point of a sword.
His return in 1815 from exile on Elba galvanized the stalled Vienna
conference. The great powers agreed to commit large armies to his
defeat. Napoleon's dream ended at Waterloo.
The battle of Waterloo meant
victory over Napoleon. A long war was ended and the invasion threat
to Britain was lifted. It meant victory of the feudal crowned heads
of Europe over the forces of the French revolution. Waterloo was a
victory for a reactionary European order. Lord Byron, visiting the
field of Waterloo in 1816: "I detest the cause and the victors — and
In final exile on St Helena, Napoleon said what
he would have done if he had invaded England in 1805: "I would have
hastened over my flotilla with two hundred thousand men, landed as
near Chatham as possible and proceeded direct to London, where I
calculated to arrive in four days from the time of my landing. I
would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility
and the House of Peers, the distribution of the property of such of
the latter as opposed me amongst my partisans, liberty, equality and
the sovereignty of the people."
2015 June 17
Rise of the Robots
Creative Machines Lab head Hod Lipson: "For
a long time the common understanding was that technology was
destroying jobs but also creating new and better ones. Now the
evidence is that technology is destroying jobs and indeed creating
new and better ones but also fewer ones."
A guaranteed basic
income is part of the answer. Give people a modest amount of money.
As a negative income tax, the idea was popularized by Milton
Friedman as a way to cut government bureaucracy. The idea offers a
way to help people shut out of labor markets. It provides a safety
net with minimum government involvement.
The rise of the
robots might be needlessly scaring our children. The trajectory of
technological progress depends on choices by governments, consumers,
and businesses. The machines are tools. Technology can be a dynamic
engine of economic growth, but more people need to own the robots.
Whoever owns the capital will benefit.
Lipson: "The solution
is not to hold back on innovation, but we have a new problem to
innovate around: how do you keep people engaged when AI can do most
things better than most people? I don't know what the solution is,
but it's a new kind of grand challenge for engineers."
Global Peace Index 2015
Vision of Humanity
Globally the intensity of internal
armed conflict has increased dramatically, with the number of people
killed in conflicts rising over 3.5 times from 49,000 in 2010 to
180,000 in 2014.
The economic impact of violence reached a
total of US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP last year.
The most peaceful and least peaceful countries:
Economics and Peace
Global Peace Index 2015
PDF, 128 pages, 7.6 MB
2015 June 16
New York Times
Greece will most likely default on its
debts and exit the eurozone.
To save Greece, European
officials need to produce a realistic plan to revive the devastated
Greek economy and put its finances in order. The 18 other EZ members
would have to agree to forgive or delay the repayment of some of
Greece's crushing debt. The Greek government would have to increase
tax collection, make the government more efficient, and boost
The eurozone will suffer if Greece defaults
and exits from the euro. But default and Grexit will devastate the
Greek economy and financial system. EZ officials have made the Greek
crisis worse since 2010 by demanding austerity policies that have
inflicted suffering on individuals, contracted the economy, and
pushed Greek unemployment to 1 in 4, and 1 in 2 for young people.
Greece is trapped in an economic calamity with no end in
2015 June 15
George W. Bush
The Bush Doctrine:
1 No matter how long it takes, we will
vigorously pursue those who do us harm
and bring them to
2 If you harbor a terrorist,
you are as guilty as the terrorist.
We have to take threats seriously before they fully materialize.
The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call for our country because
they meant that we were vulnerable to an attack no matter how many
miles of oceans protected us. The only way to defeat an ideology of
hate is with an ideology of hope. All decision making sprang from
There will not be a complete victory until
ideologies of hate are marginalized. You achieve that by advancing a
society in which the population gets to decide the fate of their
government as opposed to governments deciding what is going to
happen to the population.
My brother Jeb would be a very good
president. In this coming campaign, foreign policy is going to be an
issue. The American people are aware of potential threats to the
country. People getting their heads cut off — I think Americans are
going to pay attention to this issue.
Looks like Bush versus Clinton in 2016.
UK Looks Feeble
Admiral Sir Nigel Essenhigh
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce
Field Marshal Lord Walker
Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire
The recent Queen's Speech contained no guarantee that we would
meet our NATO minimum spending target of 2% of GDP. The ring-fenced
0.7% of GDP allocated to overseas aid should not be lumped in with
defence purely as a means of meeting the 2% NATO target. We
call on the government to ensure that their review does not degenerate into
yet another cuts exercise.
US Army in
FGM: David Cameron will stop
people taking girls abroad for
female genital mutilation.
CJHS: Most men prefer
women with shaved or
The Ring of Life
Bridget Riley: The Curve
De La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill On Sea
2015-06-13 — 2015-09-06
Lakshmi, goddess of
wealth and prosperity
Polish secretary of state
Rafał Trzaskowski says the
British people must be told
brutal truth about the
damaging consequences of
They must not be duped
into believing they can
"keep all the goodies and
forget about the costs".
AR Popping our bubble!
Photo: Mervyn O'Gorman
Girl on Dorset
The RPS Collection
2015-03-20 — 2015-06-21
2015 June 14
Heavy Metal for East Europe
New York Times
To deter possible Russian aggression in
Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry
fighting vehicles, and other heavy weapons to equip a brigade of up
to 5,000 US troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries.
Former NATO supreme allied commander James G. Stavridis: "This
is a very meaningful shift in policy. It provides a reasonable level
of reassurance to jittery allies."
New York Review of Books
The Management of Savagery, by
Abu Bakr Naji, was first posted online in 2004 and is widely cited
by jihadists. Naji, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2008, saw
the coming violence as causing "vexation and exhaustion" that would
force Americans who "have reached a stage of effeminacy which makes
them unable to sustain battles" to fight.
A Berlin district has voted new rules for
billboard ads. They ban ads showing girls in pink with dolls or boys
in blue playing with technical toys. Ads cannot show females as
hysterical, stupid or naive alongside men as technically skilled,
strong or business savvy. Women must not be shown happy in the
household or smiling for no reason.
European activists are
targeting gender mainstreaming. They are pressing for policies and
laws ensuring that everything from bathrooms to boardrooms to street
signs are gender neutral. They want fuller equality for women and
sexual minorities in both the job market and the public sphere. They
want to end the culture of male dominance.
lights still flash red or green images of men to say stop or go, but
German cities are replacing some images with female ones. Vienna
city officials replaced figures of lone men with mixed and same-sex
couples. A 2015 German toy store catalog features a girl playing
with a toy gun and boy in an apron playing in a toy kitchen.
Unisex toilets have opened in Berlin public buildings and theaters.
Many more are planned, as spaces where anyone can heed nature
together, doing away with prudery. Germans accept intimate exposure
between sexes, for example relaxing naked in the summer sun in city
parks or public pools. Shared bathrooms are the next step.
2015 June 13
Inside the Islamic State
In November 2001,
James Buchan imagined the triumphant entry into Mecca of Osama
bin Laden. While the details have changed, the scenario he outlined
appears plausible today. Islamic State Caliph Ibrahim is commander
of the faithful in a nascent state and poses a formidable threat to
Caliph Ibrahim was born in 1971 in Iraq. His
tribal lineage includes the Qurayshin tribe of the Prophet Muhammad,
and Sunni tradition requires the caliph to be a Qurayshite. His
family includes several imams and Quranic scholars. He has a
doctorate from the Islamic University of Baghdad in Islamic
jurisprudence and history.
Islamic State is a highly
centralized and disciplined organization. The caliph and his
deputies set the overall objectives. A sharia council oversees
imposition of criminal penalties including amputations and capital
punishment. An education council oversees schooling. Science is
taught and teachers are paid, but the curriculum is based on a
strict Salafist interpretation of the Koran and sharia law.
Evolutionary biology is banned and gender segregation is rigorously
The Islamic State media department employs an army
of journalists, photographers, and editors. They produce slick
propaganda videos with high production values featuring gruesome
images of brutal crucifixions, beheadings, eviscerations, mass
executions, homosexuals being pushed from high buildings, and
severed heads impaled on railings or brandished by children. Such
atrocities guarantee global publicity.
A restored caliphate
has been the dream of Islamic revivalists since the abolition of the
Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. Their aim is a transnational body that
stands above the various tribes or communities making up the Muslim
world. Their most potent psychological pitch is exploiting dreams of
Both the House of Saud and the Islamic State lay
claim to the true path of Islam, as outlined by Muhammad ibn Abd
al-Wahhab. But Islamic State challenges the legitimacy of Saudi
guardianship of the holy places. The nightmare imagined by James
Buchan may soon become a reality.
Jamie is good on the Mideast.
2015 June 12
We need a new explanation for dark
matter and a better understanding for black holes. We know that dark
matter is lightly smeared everywhere in the universe, but that there
are regions where it accumulates due to gravity.
space telescope has allowed us to chart lumps of dark matter by
their gravitational lensing. My work has focused on clusters of
galaxies. A cluster is a blob of dark matter that holds about 1000
galaxies. Dark matter does not emit radiation and its presence is
inferred by its gravitational influence.
A theory called MOND
(modified Newtonian dynamics) proposed by Jacob Bekenstein and
Mordehai Milgrom suggests that a slight tweak to Newton's laws would
be sufficient to explain away dark matter. Some of my work
confronted MOND theory with clusters. MOND fails to explain the
properties of clusters, so it's not viable.
The standard idea
of how the first black holes formed is that the first stars burned
up to leave little seed black holes. These grew very rapidly to
generate all the massive black holes that we see in the centers of
most galaxies, including the ones that glow as quasars. But we are
detecting quasars when the universe was about 1 billion years old,
and the black holes powering quasars can be about 10 billion times
the mass of the sun.
Models of direct collapse black holes
that form early in the universe predict that you should see bright
quasars much earlier into the universe. This prediction will be
tested by the James Webb Space Telescope.
2015 June 11
Anthony Atkinson proposes a new plan of
action for a British government:
• Higher rates of income tax
and higher contributions to national insurance
• Expansion of the
national social security and income redistribution system
Universal family benefits and increased retirement and unemployment
• Guaranteed public sector jobs at a minimum wage for the
• A national savings system with guaranteed returns for
• A capital endowment for each young citizen as he or
she reaches adulthood
like this would kill the incentive to work and impoverish everyone.
The plan is a manifesto for a shirker's paradise.
2015 June 10
Sitting in New York, it's completely
evident to me that no American government would ever take seriously
a Britain that has withdrawn from the European Union. It's almost
like Britain would be resigning from the world.
2015 June 9
The UK government is delivering on its pledge to hold a referendum
on EU membership. The British public are not happy with the status
quo, and the British government does not believe in an ever closer
union. We need guarantees to ensure that our interests are protected
as those that want to integrate further do so. We want a stronger
role for national parliaments. We need to tackle benefit abuse and
welfare tourism. We are determined to succeed.
2015 June 8
New Age Dawning
The G7 nations have agreed to cut greenhouse
gases by phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the
century. Angela Merkel said the G7 leaders had committed to the need
to "decarbonize the global economy in the course of this century"
and to raising $100 billion in annual climate financing by 2020. The
European Climate Foundation called the announcement historic.
Barack Obama: "One of the
great values of having the United Kingdom in the European Union is
its leadership and strength on a whole host of global challenges, so
we very much are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying part
of the European Union."
2015 June 7
Barack Obama will aim to show unity on
global challenges with Angela Merkel. The pair will open with a
public display of friendliness and remarks about the US-German
alliance. Then they plan to meet privately at the G7 site to
coordinate before joining the other leaders.
A response to
Russia on the heels of violent clashes in eastern Ukraine is
expected to dominate talks. Russian president Vladimir Putin was
ousted from the G8 for his aggression. Also high on the agenda are
the global economy, terrorism, and trade.
relationship was tested after the NSA tapped Merkel's mobile phone.
The German BND may have helped the NSA spy on European companies and
officials as far back as 2008. The impact of the NSA revelations has
not subsided in Germany.
Barack Obama: "This morning, as we celebrate
one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known, my message
to the German people is simple: we are grateful for your friendship,
for your leadership. We stand together as inseparable allies in
Europe and around the world."
Angela Merkel: "Although it is
true we sometimes have differences of opinion today from time to
time, but still the United States of America is our friend, our
partner and indeed an essential partner with whom we cooperate very
closely. We cooperate closely because this is in our mutual
interest. We cooperate because we need it. We cooperate because we
The Special Relationship
Washington is retrenching. Previous UK prime
ministers could at least pivot away from the Atlantic and toward the
European Union, but David Cameron has chosen a strategy of EU reform
and referendum. It is far from obvious how the minor member of the
Anglo-American dynamic duo should proceed when the United States has
so dramatically scaled back its international objectives.
the Mideast, the Obama administration has neither extinguished nor
contained the wildfire of Islamist terror. The perception of US lack
of determination extends to the Ukraine crisis, where Washington is
content to let Angela Merkel do the heavy lifting with Moscow, and
to the tension with Beijing in the South China Sea, where the
Chinese believe they may have the upper hand.
Blasphemy can be a step toward affirmation
of belief. If God is real, then presumably God can cope with
anything we choose to throw at Him. If God is not real, the
experience of rejecting what we think we know of God is a way of
discovering whether the notion of God matters to us.
violent rejection of a God who has failed may open up a new picture
of God. Unless you can say what you feel about Him, the God you started
with is not worth believing in. Without forceful doubt, you may
never know the real strength or weakness of what you claim to
2015 June 6
The West has failed to respond in the
fight against Islamist extremism, either to understand the
motivations of the protagonists or grasp that Arab nations are
disintegrating. The threat from Islamists will take decades to
conquer. The movement against nation states and for a caliphate is
central and fundamental. We are in a competition of ideas.
The heads of state and government of the
seven leading industrial countries will gather in Germany on June 7
and June 8 to discuss global challenges.
This G7 summit is
about much more than crisis diplomacy. Our goals are sustainable,
values-oriented growth and prosperity for as many people as
possible. This can only be achieved in open economic systems with
high investment and trade based on high social and environmental
The G7 should commit to eliminating hunger and
absolute poverty by 2030. A second global challenge is climate
protection. The G7 ought to be a model for the transition to a
I am convinced that the G7 can be the
driving force for a world worth living in. I am committed to shaping
the global economy and global integration in such a way that the
living conditions of all people around the world are improved. We
must be committed to peace, freedom and security.
2015 June 5
Humans Hybrid by 2030
By 2030 our brains will be able to connect
directly to the cloud, where thousands of computers will augment our
native intelligence. The brain will connect via nanobots made from
DNA strands. Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and
non-biological thinking. The bigger and more complex the cloud, the
more advanced our thinking. By about 2040, our thinking will be
2015 June 4
Emmanuel Macron, Sigmar Gabriel
The EU crisis of recent
years highlights two architectural weaknesses:
1 The end of economic convergence
between eurozone countries
Political tensions within the member states and within the union
Now is the time to fix the eurozone. We have to launch an
economic and social union by agreeing on a process of convergence
that would involve not only structural and institutional reforms but
also social and tax convergence. This would bring EZ economies
This convergence would allow the creation of a
preliminary EZ budget. A fiscal capacity over and above national
budgets would allow the EZ to adjust fiscal policy to track the
economic cycle. This budget need not come at the expense of fiscal
discipline at the national level.
To make its institutions
work, Europe will need to address its democratic deficit. New
executive powers at the eurozone level need to be complemented by
governance reforms leading to stronger accountability.
need a simpler and more efficient union, with streamlined governance
and a stronger sense of community. Our goal is to render it
unthinkable for any country in pursuit of its national interest to
consider a lesser union. Europe cannot wait any longer.
The Pentagon is rushing missiles to Iraq to
counter suicide truck bombers. The new Swedish AT-4 anti-tank
missiles are effective but simple to use. Iraqi forces fled from
Ramadi when concentrated waves of suicide bombers driving captured
US armored vehicles packed with tons of explosives forced an IS
2015 June 3
In 2007, Kamila Markram,
Henry Markram, and
Tania Rinaldi developed a theory of autism as Intense World
Syndrome. They believe that the autistic brain is supercharged and
hyperfunctional, making stimuli overwhelming, causing people with
autism to withdraw for self-protection.
EPFL researchers now
show how autism might be treated following IWS. They exposed rats to
the drug valproate (VPA), then put the rats in three different
environments: a standard laboratory cage, an unpredictable enriched
environment, and a predictable enriched environment.
exposed to VPA were more sensitive to their environments than
control rats. Those in the predictable environment did not develop
behaviors indicating anxiety and fear that the VPA-exposed mice in
the unpredictable environment or the standard environment did. It
seems an unpredictable or impoverished environment, but not a
predictable one, exacerbates autistic symptoms in rats.
Kamila Markram sees implications for treating children with autism:
"Structure and predictability is important, but none of the
approaches has put this at the center. We say you have to put it at
the center and you need to be addressing sensory overflow."
2015 June 2
Bundestag foreign affairs committee chairman
Norbert Röttgen: "In a time and global environment where we are
facing global disorder and the world is falling apart, there is a
requirement for a strong Europe, for European unity and strength,
and a signal to fall apart, to get disintegrated, would be a
disastrous message of European weakness. ... The fact is it would
break the hearts of most Germans if Great Britain would leave. It
would break my heart absolutely, in general and particularly because
I love this country and I'm absolutely, strongly convinced that
European unity is crucial to assert our way of living in this
globalized world. ... We want to have a well balanced European Union
and Great Britain contributes to the balance of what Europe really
UK Armed Forces
UK armed forces are in dire straits. The RAF
is down to a handful of operational bombers and has no sub hunters
at all. The army is yet again cutting back on soldiers. The navy is
getting new aircraft carriers, but they can carry only jump jets and
the awaited F-35B is delayed and over budget.
The UK defense
budget is the fifth biggest in the world, around the same as that of
France. But France has an aircraft carrier with planes, plus
hundreds of operational strike jets, maritime patrol planes, and an
army with many more soldiers than ours.
We could do better
buying off the
shelf from US companies. Our new carriers allow
the option to add catapults. The cats were canceled, but we could
refit them and lease US F/A-18E/F Super Hornet "Bug" strike
fighters. Bugs are cheap and capable and could fill the RAF Tornado
AR A new UK wish
• Refit the carriers
with cats and fly Bugs from them
Use Bugs for strike instead of Tornado and Typhoon
• Buy more Tomahawk cruise missiles
for attack subs
• Deploy Reaper
and new drones for close air support
Deploy Poseidon for maritime patrol and sub hunting
• Prefer C-17 Globemaster over
A400M Atlas for airlift
We could pay for all this by retiring
2015 June 1
The Reality of Consciousness
Consciousness is a fundamental quality of
the cosmos. Our experience of the world is a representation of
reality created by the brain. We mistake the representation for
Perhaps all we can say about
physical reality is that it is a highly structured field of
information. The information has been given form in awareness. These
forms appear to us as the material world. But this material world
exists only in our awareness. Matter, as we know it, is all in the
There is not only a complex flow of information, but an
integration of the information from many different processes across
the brain. The hard problem of consciousness still remains. Nothing
in our current scientific worldview predicts that any arrangement of
physical matter should ever result in an inner conscious experience.
Perhaps the capacity for experience is present, to some extent,
in everything. If the capacity for awareness goes all the way down,
then it must be an intrinsic quality of the cosmos. The world out
there has the potential to be aware. The information field is aware.
And that is all there is.
The essential nature of the cosmos
is mind, not matter. My innermost essence is the essence of
everything. In the words of the Upanishads, I am That.
This about as far as I got too in my conception of reality. Peter is
a welcome fellow traveler on the long march through
(mathematics—informatics—physics) to enlightenment.